Bringing together some musings about media as we start into a new year. These are some of the things, but by no means all, that I’ve been thinking about.

It was the comments

Looking back on an incredibly busy year in media innovation, for me the most significant of the changes wasn’t the rapid adoption of video and audio by newspapers (as exciting as that is), but the simple act of adding the ability to comment to every article in the newspaper. The practice is hardly widespread, but it seems to be gaining some momentum.

Why is that significant? It’s not just that it allows for conversation and audience interaction. And it’s not just that it allows for extension of the article by bringing into play more information, commentary and reaction.

Article-level commenting brings the reader more fully into newsmaking as partners, instead of corralling audience into a separate, segregated comments forum. That’s a subtle, but welcome and important change in the evolution of newspapers.

It will become even more interesting when reporters and editors begin adding to the comments, and the comments start driving and extending individual stories.

Where will my money go?

I expect to pay for more of my internet content in 2006 but not likely in the ways that large organizations (such as traditional media) would like me to. Over the past couple of years I have sent small amounts of money to organizations such as the EFF and Creative Commons, and to some bloggers in response to fund-raising drives, non-blog related events (walkathons, etc.) and to support worthwhile blogging causes (funds for Iranian bloggers to allow them to keep one step ahead of the censors.)

I’ve also spent money on some legacy media — a subscription to the Wall Street Journal to get full access to its media- and technology-related articles and monthly payments to the NY Times for its crossword puzzles.

This year, I can see myself sending money to the IT Conversations network as it moves to a new funding model, not because I have to but because of the quality of what Doug Kaye offers and the value I get from it. I suspect, throughout the year, there will be other opportunities to vote for quality and value with small bits of cash.

My money is not likely to be spent on many newspaper initiatives, a loss of revenue being lamented in a current thread at the Visual Editors site. The problem isn’t that newspapers shot themselves in the feet by not requiring subscriptions from the get-go; it’s that newspapers overestimate the amount of unique information they produce that has value. There isn’t much I’ve discovered, at any number of newspaper sites, that I’d consider paying for on either a subscription or voluntary basis.

Re-evaluating value

The above kicks off this thought: my definition of value is going to continue to change this year and, given that I’m swimming in a sea of information, the personal payoff is going to dictate where my attention goes. There’s no single definition: Google is valuable to me, and so is Amazon or Alibris, and so is Rocketboom, but all for different reasons.

The value of the newspaper has never been in the individual bits and pieces but in the aggregate (the bundle). The bundle has less and less value to me, because it is less and less unique or required. It seems to me newspapers, in either print or online iteration, have a couple of choices: bootstrap their future from the individual bits and pieces of the bundle, or find a way (voice, depth, attitude, expertise, etc.) to bring value back to the bundle.

That given, I can’t see my local newspapers raising very far up my value chart, no matter which definition of value I use, when almost all of the information in it is freely available elsewhere, and when a number of local bloggers give me hyperlocal coverage that mainstream media can’t match.

I am, however, prepared to be surprised. I truly love newspapers and consider the newspaper the most perfect (although still flawed) of traditional media. I am also encouraged by a lot of what I’ve seen this year because of some very smart people working in the field. (John Robinson is one: read this.)

TAGS: , ,