Use Cases

Areas that are most urgent and/or critical to a functioning civil life.


Journalism

Critical information needs to be easily available and simple to process on the recipients end.

That used to be the work of journalists. Nowadays, "journalism" has become mostly advertising and hype instead of education and clear cut information.

Content vs. Service

Is news really a content business? Should it be? Perhaps defining ourselves as content creators is a trap. That worldview convinces us that our value is embodied entirely in what we make rather than in the good people derive from it. The belief that our business is to produce a product called content is what drives us to build paywalls around it -- to argue that the public should pay for what we make because it costs us money to make it and, besides, they've always paid for it. It motivates us to fight over protecting our content from what we view as theft using copyright rather than recognizing the value that content and the information in it can bring in informing relationships. As content creators, we separate ourselves from the public while we create our product until we are finished and make it public because that is what our means of production and distribution long demanded; only now are we learning to collaborate during the process. Our monopoly over those means of production also convinced us that we could own, control, and wield pricing power over this scarcity. These circumstances left us ill-prepared for a technological era when copies cost nothing; when content and thus competition are abundant; when information becomes a commodity the instant it can be passed on with a link and click; and when the value of information before it is spread and known has a half-life now measured in milliseconds. Content, it turns out, is not a great business.

To suggest that we are not in the content business is to argue that journalists are not primarily storytellers: high heresy indeed. That idea pulls the rug out from under everything we assume and hold dear about our craft and trade: our job descriptions, our production processes, our legal status, our measures of success, and certainly our business models. Fear not: Content will continue to be valued. But content's value may be more as a tool than as an end in itself and certainly not as our only product. Well then, if we are not in the content business, what business are we in? Consider journalism as a service. Content is that which fills something. Service is that which accomplishes something. To be a service, news must be concerned with outcomes rather than products. What should journalism's result be? That seems obvious: better-informed individuals and a better-informed society. But who's to define "informed" and who's to measure success: journalists or citizens? Jay Rosen challenged me on Twitter, saying that if journalism is a service then it must have terms of service. Shouldn't it be the public that sets those terms?

Journalists have believed that informing the public is their job and that the role of editors is to decide what the public ought to know. We set the terms of service. We define what it means to be an informed citizen. We often complain as well that too much of society is ill-informed. Let's put aside that rather paternalistic attitude toward the public we serve. If we do not believe in the will of the public to be informed, then we might as well give up on democracy, free markets, and the ideals of education, not to mention journalism. I am confident that there will continue to be a market demand for the information a society needs to function. That must be an article of faith if we are to hold our hope to sustain journalism.

Let's also acknowledge that, in the oft-quoted and misquoted words of Dan Gillmor, our public knows more than we do. So our job isn't only to inform the public. It is also our job to help them inform each other. In the past, when somebody knew what others needed to know, we had limited tools to spread that knowledge: a reporter found the expert, witness, or official to answer a question and the news organization distributed what she learned. Now we have more tools at hand that allow communities to communicate directly. So perhaps our first task in expanding journalism's service should be to offer platforms that help individuals and communities to seek, reveal, gather, share, organize, analyze, understand, and use their own information or to better use the platforms that already exist, from Twitter to Facebook to Reddit.[1]

[Bold not in the original.]

And the Pulitzer goes to... a computer

Computer-generated copy is already used in sports and business reporting -- will machines soon master great storytelling?[2]

Robots write thousands of news stories a year, but not this one.[3]


References:

  1. http://www.amazon.com/Geeks-Bearing-Gifts-Imagining-Futures/dp/1939293731 
  2. http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/jun/28/computer-writing-journalism-artificial-intelligence 
  3. http://money.cnn.com/2015/06/11/media/robots-journalists-media-jobs/