I was glad to have time yesterday to watch a seminar at MIT with Joi Ito and Ethan Zuckerman both of the MIT Media Lab. Ito, who is director of the Media Lab is also on the board of the NY Times, the MacArthur Foundation and the Knight Foundation. It puts him in a pretty central position to support experimentation in new models for news.
I’ve known both Joi and Ethan for many years, and consider both friends.
The discussion was how to innovate in news.
Of course I have some ideas about that, and some stories to tell about past experiments that worked, that yielded great results. Here are three of those stories.
The SF news strike of 1994
- I first got into the web during the San Francisco newspaper strike in 1994. It was a moon mission atmosphere. We had to get a website on the air as quickly as possible and flow news from reporters working on the strike paper. We shared technology with the management guys too, who were friends. The net result for me was a very primitive web CMS called AutoWeb. Which led to many other great things, including blogging, a number of years later.
- Take-away from that experience — look for opportunities to make big progress very quickly. News is full of them, because of the nature of news. Something happened and we (collectively) have to scale up a new operation to cover it.
- Another great example was the coverage of 9/11. For that one I was in California. Untouched by the terrorism, I was able to take reports from all corners, at first from eye-witnesses, people with digital cameras, and then as the NY-based reporters got to the scene and were themselves out of danger, integrating their reports. By the next day the press had recovered, and they picked up the ball.
The NYT and RSS
- Another incredible example of cooperative development was the deal we did with Martin to get the content of the NYT to flow through the then-nascent RSS network. It was based on a personal relationship. You’d have to ask Martin why he trusted me, but he did (maybe it’s because I loved his product and he could tell) and we were able to stop all the terrible fighting in the tech business. I think the role the Times played in cleaning up the RSS mess was something that hasn’t gotten enough attention. The Times in this case was a user of technology. Moral: Users can be powerful.
When the gates are down
- Look for moments when the gates are down, when people have to get stuff done, there’s no time to object.