David Carr delivers the best piece of media analysis I’ve seen all year. The entire column is worth a read, but I was struck by points Carr makes in the following paragraph:
Julian Assange, WikiLeaks’s founder and guiding spirit, apparently began to understand that scarcity, not ubiquity, drives coverage of events. Instead of just pulling back the blankets for all to see, he began to limit the disclosures to those who would add value through presentation, editing and additional reporting. In a sense, Mr. Assange, a former programmer, leveraged the processing power of the news media to build a story and present it in comprehensible ways. (Of course, as someone who draws a paycheck from a mainstream journalism outfit, it may be no surprise that I continue to see durable value in what we do even amid the journalistic jujitsu WikiLeaks introduces.)
Journalism outlets have flopped about in recent years, desperate to latch on to some bit of justification for their existence. Carr, without really trying, zeroes in on the one thing they need to do:
… build a story and present it comprehensible ways.
That’s it. Storytelling is and always will be a vital structure of cognition. We’re hard-wired to understand stories. We need these things.
Any content-centric organization that wants to continue to exist in five years must genuflect before storytelling. It is the gravitational center of information, and all editorial decisions, business models, and revenue streams, need to orbit around it.
In exchange for a weekly licensing fee, franchisees and partners can choose from three bundles of content to sell print and geo-locational web ads against: the national “news” stories, the national A.V. Club section (consisting of non-satirical profiles and interviews with filmmakers, comedians, and musicians), and local A.V. Club listings (local events chosen and summarized by Onion-supervised editors and freelancers living in each city). But franchisees take those packages in an all-or-nothing agreement. They can’t touch the content; that’s the deal.
The impulse to shut WikiLeaks down is what we need to fight. Clay Shirky articulates this well:
I think the current laws, which criminalize the leaking of secrets but not the publishing of leaks, strike the right balance. However, as a citizen of a democracy, I’m willing to be voted down, and I’m willing to see other democratically proposed restrictions on Wikileaks put in place. It may even be that whatever checks and balances do get put in place by the democratic process make anything like Wikileaks impossible to sustain in the future.
The key, though, is that democracies have a process for creating such restrictions, and as a citizen it sickens me to see the US trying to take shortcuts. The leaders of Myanmar and Belarus, or Thailand and Russia, can now rightly say to us “You went after Wikileaks’ domain name, their hosting provider, and even denied your citizens the ability to register protest through donations, all without a warrant and all targeting overseas entities, simply because you decided you don’t like the site. If that’s the way governments get to behave, we can live with that.”
Goodbye CPMs. Even if Gawker’s new approach falls flat, I admire the boldness of their thinking:
To break out of the current painful loop, Denton has decided to emulate his beloved television and move to “a programming grid which owes more to TV than to magazines.” Gawker Media has a rudimentary calendar for its current sites, but that will become vastly more sophisticated post relaunch: he envisages saving up a few personal-finance posts at Lifehacker, say, putting them all up at 3pm on a Friday with the best one sitting on the front page for an hour, and then selling every ad on the site to Visa for that hour. At that point, if all goes according to plan, Gawker’s no longer competing with lots of other personal-finance sites for Visa’s ad dollars; instead, Visa is competing with other financial advertisers for the right to buy that hour.
This is something it’s hard for old-school web or print publishers to get their head around: the idea of selling time, rather than space. But it’s not entirely new to the web: Fortune, for instance, will quite happily sell against the spike in traffic that it knows will come on the day it puts up the Fortune 500. Advertisers, too, are very comfortable with the idea, since they’ve been buying time on TV and radio stations for decades. If I’m browsing Lifehacker during the personal finance hour, I might see what Denton calls “a storyboard of advertising,” a sequence of ads which work over a relatively short space of time. It’s an intriguing idea, and it’ll be very interesting to see how and whether Batty’s successor can sell it to notoriously-conservative media buyers.