Highlights of Friday’s news:rewired conference were many, with personal standouts including an infographics masterclass from the BBC’s Ollie Williams and the FT’s Rob Minto, and a punchy closing session, in which the panellists, Kevin Anderson and Philip Trippenbach in particular, did their damnedest to follow instructions to “be provocative”.
But for me the day’s key session was all about paid content, with contributions from the Times’ assistant editor and head of online Tom Whitwell and Karl Schneider, head of editorial development at RBI. The latter publisher has achieved notable success in generating online revenues, although its bundling of specialist content and data is not a path open to everyone. As for the former, well…
The Times man was understandably cagey, but nonetheless let slip some telling quotes, especially when discussing his and his colleagues’ frustrations at coverage of their efforts that failed to acknowledge their appreciation of the scale of the task facing them.
Schneider was full of great anecdotes, from his description of online display – “just print advertising lumped on screen, we laugh at people who take that approach with content” – to his reminders of the experimentation that occurred in the early days of newspapers. Pages left blank, for example, the ur-paper being a social object with space to fill with personal news before handing it on. And how, earlier still, news was even more social, a conversation piece in the tavern to accompany your mead.
The rebirth of “social news” dominated the closing panel discussion, in which the rewired journalist was consistently cast in the role of community hub. Yet for all the provocation, engagement and community involvement were treated as unquestioned necessities, and seemingly de facto good things.
There are many questions that can be asked of crowdsourcing, on grounds ranging from unrepresentative constitutions to tendencies toward Groupthink. At an earlier news:rewired session devoted to online communities, the Bournemouth Daily Echo’s Samantha Shepherd talked about not only their value, but also the huge challenge of moderating them.
While publishers have a clear need for a community management, marshalling, or ringleading, should this be a core competence for the evolving journalist? The noises coming out of news:rewired suggested as much – but given the challenges, it’s a route that could lead the profession perilously close to the tavern, with at least some of the parochialism that entails.
Big thanks to journalism.co.uk for putting on another terrific – and yes, provocative – news:rewired.