The last session of the day is about the future of mainstream media. Jochen Wegner, the moderator (he's the editor of Focus Online) asks whether in the future "we will have journalism companies or journalistic practices?". The lineup is heavily US-leaning.
Tarik Krim of Netvibes (one of those services that let you create your personalized homepage by assembling information from different sources): what we do is re-mixing the Internet. Our digital life is expanding and fragmenting: many services (media, social networks, web apps, video, music, widgets), several e-mail accounts, multiple sources of information, etc. Netvibes is an architecture to help people better manage their digital life. The service carries no advertising, at least in the traditional sense. Not even a logo: "it's your page". The site has expanded internationally thanks to its users - who provided translations etc. Company is 15 months old, has 10 million active users. Three trend: the end of the webpage: it was a transition between information, data and users (it's the same concept voiced by Caterina Fake yesterday); the losing importance of the browser; de-portalization: the web is being broken into small independent pieces of information that can be re-mixed and re-assembled. What is the place of "traditional media" here? RSS offers a smart new ability to distribute content anywhere, and media publishers should invest time in order to really understand it. The problem with RSS right now: it's boring - but we're trying to improve it (pictures, flash, etc).
Jim Spanfeller, who heads Forbes.com: The idea of Netvibes and syndication is important, but so does the concept of editors. If you take senior business executives, who are our core audience, and ask them what is the first thing they do in the morning in terms of information, 60% of them will say "I go to the web". Newspapers, which used to be one of the most frequently distributed news sources, are now one of the least frequently distributed news sources.
Craig Newmark, founder of the extremely popular classified-ads site Craigslist (created about ten years ago, 23 employees, nearing 6 billion page views a month, partially owned by eBay): We make it up we go along, we really don't know what we are doing. We are engineers. We just do what feels right, and somehow that seems to work. We have learned one big lesson: we are not a news site, and we don't intend to be one. When you look at an ad in our site, and you think it's somehow wrong, you cal flag it for removal, which is a sort of editorial process. If there are enough flags on an ad, it is automatically removed and returned to the person who posted it. So the site is self-policed (self-edited). People are overwhelmingly trustworthy and good. There are bad guys out there, but our community helps us to find them and keep them out. You can trust your community to do the right thing; give them alot of power to vote on what's right or wrong. However, since the bad guys are very persistent, you need to add a facility that edits on top of that. When people flag an ad, we have now tools that analyze trends on what is being flagged so we can remove other inappropriate content. People are applying this to journalism - Digg, NewsTrust, DayLife, NewAssignment - lots of important experiments (to some of which Craig has contributed financial support). If you trust your community, they will repay that and work with you to build a form of trust, but you do need editors to provide checks and balances.
Arianna Huffington, publisher of the news site/collective blog HuffingtonPost (right now one of the most influential online entities in US politics - full disclosure: I'm a blogger on HuffPost): This whole debate about old media and new media is irrelevant: both will be around for a long time. Particularly the idea that old media is trustworthy (journalism practices and accuracy and fact-checking) while new media is not, is ridiculous. She mentions how the New York Times has been instrumental in building up the Bush case for invading Iraq. That's not to glorify the blogosphere: bloggers also need fast-checking and accuracy. But objectivity is not a bit of this and a bit of that and the truth is in the middle. The truth is not always in the middle. Mainstream media in the US are presenting the war in Iraq as a right-left debate, but it's not. A part of what the new media need to do is to push the old media to re-think things. The mainstream media, particularly in the US, have had a free ride for a long time. Especially when it comes to politics. They are suffering from attention disorder, while the blogosphere is suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder. But we need both. What blogging has allowed me to do is being obsessive about things - I've been obsessive about Iraq. If I only had my twice-a-week column, my editor would have said "you wrote about that last week". To break through the static of modern media, and capture the attention of people, and develop a story, that's what blogging is about. At the HuffPost we also want to bring in the best of the "old". When I launched HuffPost, I asked Arthur Schlesinger to contribute, and after asking me what a blog was, he told me: "I don't have a computer". Don't worry, I replied, that's not the point: the point is about the voice, the most interesting conversation. Schlesinger faxes me his posts, that doesn't matter. Of course 90% of our bloggers have direct access to our system, so our editorial control comes in when we decide who gets a password, and what posts we promote to the homepage.
David Sifry, founder of Technorati, the blog search engine, which currently tracks over 50 million blogs: The real power boils down to the brand: I still read the NYTimes, because with all their flaws I feel comfortable that they will give me a good idea of things I should know about. But the NYT publishes only a few letters to the editor a day, and these are picked by the editors. Online, everybody can have their say. And sometimes the expert is out there, it isn't the woman that the NYT reporter is calling. That represents a shift in the power equation. It would be an incredible loss if we lost the investigative journalism and the amount of hard work and passion that goes into creating a magazine. The big elephant in the room is: where is the money?
During the questions session, Esme Vos, editor of Muniwireless, a blog covering the growth in municipal/citiwide wi-fi networks, tells of writing an analysis of the contract between the city of San Francisco and Earthlink to install a wi-fi network in SF - an analysis that didn't please an advertiser on the site, who threatened to pull out. A problem that many newspapers have faced in the past and continue to face, but to which bloggers are starting to be confronted, too.
Tech analyst and investor Esther Dyson adds a comment in defense of editors: the community can select and filter, but editors make the content better.