Friday, February 25, 2011

Three reasons why “Web Journalism Is a Joke” (and what to do about it)

Former Engadget and Mashable Editor Samuel Axon writes a must read long piece about the (sorry) state of web journalism. Samuel has written a timely post, and I have tried to summarize the post in three main points:

1. Web journalism has become a slave of search engine such as Google [The pagerank algorithm, Google trends, Google suggest...
... the rules Google uses to determine which websites gain strong rankings — and thus frequent traffic, high impressions and strong ad revenues — betray journalists and the people who need them at every turn.
Google’s algorithms and the blog linking customs built around them favor those who write first, not those who write accurately. 
Readability, accuracy and quality are not considerations. The only way to profit (apart from being a prophet or building a time machine) is to respond to what people are searching for. 

2. Web journalism has become a slave of social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook. here we are writing 140-character posts (minus the link length) with Twitter trend words included before we’ve had time to come to terms with the information we’re reporting.

3. Most news sites/blogs are treating news as 'mass produced' commodities, tailored to demand [search trends, tweets etc.] Learn to distinguish between hypocrites and honest ones.
I am tired of seeing TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington and Huff Po’s Arianna Huffington claim otherwise in their crusades against “old media.”

For all the flak they get, at least AOL’s Tim Armstrong, Demand Media’s Richard Rosenblatt and Mahalo’s Jason Calacanis aren’t lying through their teeth.

The result: Web journalism has gone to the dogs:

We are incentivized to offer what people want to hear, not what they need to hear

Is there any solution to the mess Web journalism is in?
I remember Francis Ford Copolla, the famous director, saying in an interview that artists creating wealth out of art is a relatively new thing.

Not long time ago, artists used to support themselves through patronage of rich people, doing other projects for sustenance (Copolla has a profitable wine business), or making do with little.

Web journalism/journalism needs to be somewhat like art.
See it not as means to riches but as a calling.

Because, no one else has any credible solution. Samuel says,

The responsibility lays with Google, Twitter, and other tech media companies that provide the infrastructure in which would-be journalists work. Mashable, AOL and The Huffington Post are all powerless to change anything.


Teaching blogging in schools

Anyone can be a blogger. There are no significant barriers to entry and the software is free. You can host on to avoid spending money on hosting.

Anyone can be a blogger. This is also the biggest obstacle to succeeding as a professional blogger.

Read this blog post on the difficulties facing an aspiring professional blogger. The main points:
1, Any career that has minimal barriers to entry is not going to be accepted by those that are more conservative.
Their belief is that you should have to go to school, receive training, and at least do something to earn the right or the experience/knowledge needed to become a blogger.  

2. (Regular) Schools do not teach blogging
If they can teach creative writing and journalism, why not blogging, which incorporates both disciplines and does more.

Blogging is a relatively new field. School and colleges are usually ten years behind the real world in terms of determining what training is vital to the workforce. Many colleges only recently began offering degrees in Web Design. I work at a high school in New York. I have yet to see any teacher complete or attempt any lesson plans related to blogging.

3. What makes successful bloggers stand apart? 
There are many guides on the topic online. Just Google it.
The short version: You must cover a niche like anything, like nobody has ever done ever before.

...most successful bloggers are far more sophisticated in their blogging activities than those that fail.  While some folks are superb writers and luck into the right niche, the successful bloggers I know are constantly testing, reviewing, and planning how to best construct their blogs. The blog is treated as a business at all times. Anyone can start a business, not many are successful.

Three Indian bloggers who are doing okay as professional bloggers: Amit Agarwal (Digital Inspiration Blog), Aashish Sinha ( and Nikhil Pahwa (Medianama)


Gene Sharp's Eight-Step Method to Non-Violent Revolution

Every revolution gives us its heroes, some of whom are in the front and some are behind the scenes, serving as guiding lights. In the context of the current revolution that is sweeping across much of the Arab world, many say Gene Sharp is showing protesters the way to struggle with dictatorships. He wrote the influential guide 'From Dictatorship to Democracy' (download here) during the 1993 Burmese democratic movement.

The main point of Gene's work:

...the power of dictatorships comes from the willing obedience of the people they govern - and that if the people can develop techniques of withholding their consent, a regime will crumble.

Gene's book can be summarized as these eight steps to Non-Violent Revolution:

1. Develop a strategy for winning freedom and a vision of the society you want
2. Overcome fear by small acts of resistance
3. Use colors and symbols to demonstrate unity of resistance
4. Learn from historical examples of the successes of non-violent movements
5. Use non-violent "weapons"
6. Identify the dictatorship's pillars of support and develop a strategy for undermining each
7. Use oppressive or brutal acts by the regime as a recruiting tool for your movement
8. Isolate or remove from the movement people who use or advocate violence

Note: Gene's book is in sharp contrast to the guerrilla methods advocated by Che Guevara, through his life long struggles, as well as his books Guerrilla Warfare and Reminisces of the Cuban Revolutionary War. Google these.