Interaction traps

The Norwegian debate about debating culture on the web continues and coincides with an Online Journalism Review story on how reporters are learning how to interact with readers/users. This appears important to me:

Positive interaction can occur, but reporters must first cultivate a non-confrontational temperament and other subtle skills — such as interpretation of syntax and a level of transparency — if they are going to interact successfully.

However, it’s possible to argue that Scandinavian news sites are taking more risks in interacting with readers, such as allowing comments to articles, the pitfalls of which the Dagbladet debate is about. So hopefully we can also lead the way in establishing best practice…

Polarized web debates has an important piece about how extreme views dominate their web debates (disclosure – I was interviewed for the article). This is of course exasperating for editors and journalists who want to involve readers in constructive debates. When it comes to sensitive and complicated issues such as immigration and minorities, moderate voices just don’t want to participate if the debate is dominated by extremists. On the other hand, there are many good reasons to allow even extreme views, so that they can be met with knowledge-based arguments. Public debate should never be a domain for “experts”.

By writing this piece, Dagbladet has challenged their readers. Shortly after publishing there were already over 500 comments. This is an all-important subject that I’ll return to, and hopefully also Dagbladet and other media.

Ideas for the emerging symbiosis

I’ve written a new piece for the Danish Centre for Journalism and Further Education where I suggest some ideas for how the media can handle the emerging symbiosis between media and their audiences (in Norwegian). The main points in brief:

  • Respect the internet culture: The media have a history of fearing, ignoring, misunderstanding and/or impeding innovations related to the internet. How many new web sensations have been created by the established media? Not Wikipedia, Google or Flickr – or Movable Type. The first rule for the media must be to understand the motivation of the people behind the web’s innovations, and to resist the temptation to exploit or monopolize the new genres that emerge.
  • Learn from best practice: Standard consultant advice, but still valid. A couple of examples: The Wikipedia community seems to function extraordinarily well. The necessary control of quality and adherence to community rules is done by experienced users. The community polices itself, as it were (expect more about Wikipedia on this blog in the coming months, by the way). Another example is the new Netzeitung project Readers Edition, where editing of citizen journalism stories is done by moderators, not the editors. This experiment is something to watch closely.
  • Hire a community editor: Most news websites will have to resolve how they communicate and integrate with their audiences. This will be a strategically important area, no doubt. So they will need a visible community editor to organize their efforts. He or she should initiate debates and be a kind of ombudsman for readers/users.
  • Experiment more: One thing I’m certain of: Journalism online will become more ambitious. One obvious possibility is to involve readers more, and on a daily basis, not just when a tsunami or a terrorist hits. But citizen media and reader involvement isn’t everything. Dynamic database projects such as Washington Post’s Congress votes database show the way forward: creative use of best practice of the web to enhance journalism.

Gazprom as private equity media investor

If the head of Russia’s state Agency for Press and Mass Communications Mikhail Seslavinskiy is to be believed, Russian state-owned companies such as Gazprom will sell their media assets gradually over 18 months to two years. The reason given for spreading the sales over a longer period of time was to get a good price. So does this mean that Gazprom & co – and president Putin – regard their media assets as just a kind of private equity investment? Not very likely, given the Putin administration’s intense activity to control the major mass media. Anyway, a sell-off would seem like a step in the right direction (via Editor’s Weblog).

More Russia media news:

The Guardian has round-up of this week’s high-level media conference in Moscow.

Gorbachev invests in Novaya Gazeta.

Aftonbladet’s cooperation with Novaya Gazeta and Anna Politkovskaya.

No reward for bloggin’ scientists

As part of the ongoing reform of the university sector, some of the funding of Norwegian universities and colleges will be distributed according to scientists’ and departments’ participation in the wider public sphere (so-called “formidling”). A committee is currently working on indicators measuring such participation. In a preliminary report, the committee recommends to drop earlier plans of a separate indicator for web publishing. This means that universities or individual scientists won’t get any reward for maintaining websites aimed at the general public. Hence no financial incentives for scientists to create rich personal websites and/or blogs such as Jill’s. Publishing articles in edited online news sites and magazines will however earn “points” (I was told this by a representative of the committee). So maybe scientists with an above average interest in communicating with the public should launch an edited web magazine where their blog posts can be republished?

VG celebrates 10.000 blogs

10.000 blogs have now been created on Norway’s largest news website VG Nett since the service launched last October, a milestone the site rightly celebrates. As I am quoted as saying in the story, there’s every reason to believe that many find VG attractive as blog host because traffic will spill over from the news website to blogs. Not the only reason for choosing VG as host, but probably important. The site also features highlights from blogs quite prominently on the main news page.

One of my hopes for the future of VG’s blog coverage is that they will also hunt for good blog posts among bloggers outside VG’s own service. That way they will definitely increase their credibility among non-VG bloggers, and also their relevance as a main aggregator of the wider Norwegian blog community.

Another peculiarity of VG’s blog service is that the bloggers there relate very much to each other, and not so much to bloggers outside VG. Hence, there’s a strong, independent community at VG Blogg. Nothing wrong with that, but again I hope that “VG’s” bloggers in the future will connect to the wider networks as well.

Norwegian blog heroes in Bangladesh?

Aparna Ray at Global Voices credits Norwegian software company Somewhere in… with creating a platform for bloggers in the Bangla (Bengali) language:

The real push for Bangla blogging however, came from Bangladesh on December 16, 2005 when somewhere in…, a Norwegian software company based in Dhaka, launched a new blogging platform in Bangla at In a way this marked the true birth of the Bangla blogosphere as it helped create a vibrant, interactive community, where people could reach out and share their thoughts and feelings on varied topics and issues.

This would be a rather big deal, since the Bangla language has around 200 Million native speakers! (via Neha).

WSJ’s news recommendations

Some innovations are so simple it’s almost laughable. At first sight it’s seems strange to have an editor recommend stories from his own newspaper. The whole newspaper itself is a recommendation from the editor, right? Yes, but this is in effect what Frederick Kempe does with his daily free Eurolinks News Alert e-mail newsletter. He picks interesting stories from the WSJ website/newspaper, and adds his own personal introduction. An excellent way of a) attracting new paying subscribers and b) maintaining existing subscribers’ interest in the site. It’s hard to say which of the two is more important, but one could easily underestimate b). Because of the wealth of information on the web, subscribers can soon find that they don’t visit the WSJ so much. So why pay? Kempe’s newsletter is a daily reminder of why you started subscribing in the first place. Registration here. E-mail newsletters are very 1997, but so what, what works works.

Broadcasting search finally underway

Some of the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation’s archive is finally available, sort of, search engine Sesam announced today (via Aftenposten). Clips from TV and radio broadcasts are now included in search results. Obviously a good thing, but what we would like to see online is of course the whole archive, at least of news broadcasts. One could start with radio news and current affairs, where it’s hard to imagine copyright issues. The thought of being able to search and browse NRK radio all the way back – a fantastic resource for schools, universities, journalists and the general public. And it must of course be free, since the public has already paid for it with the compulsory licence fee.

Killing the big blobs of text

A great interview with Adrian Holovaty at Online Journalism Review makes you think about all the opportunities that the world’s media are missing every day, as we’re still working with our “big blobs of text” instead of structuring information:

Much of the information that journalists collect, day to day, is structured. Information such as crime reports, obituaries and event listings always follow a certain pattern, which can be richly exploited by databases. The majority of newspapers takes the time to *collect* this information — which is the hard part — but they dramatically reduce its value by NOT storing it in structured formats. Instead, they distill it into big blobs of text for publication in their print editions, and then they shovel those big blobs of text onto their websites. At this point, all structure is lost: Crime reports can’t be sorted or searched intelligently, and event listings can’t be viewed in any sort of user-friendly way.

The interview has lots of links to essential sites.