What news "ought to be"

By Bernard Re, Jr.
First Published Online: September 9, 2000
Updated September 9, 2000

I have just finished reading "Birth of the Chaordic" age. It contains things that I hold as personal truths. The inter-connectiveness of all things. That intuition will be uplifted. That people "are not human resources" to be controlled, used and discarded. That value has many definitions. That "becoming" is what life is all about. The book goes on and on striking cord after cord in my mind, heart and soul. The amazing thing about this book is that it is also about the bringing into being of the largest commercial business on earth. The writer Dee Hock, is the Founder and CEO Emeritus of VISA.

Chaordic [kay'-ordic], adj., fr. E. chaos and order. 1) the behavior of any self organizing organism, organization or system which harmoniously blends characteristics of order and chaos. 2) patterned in a way dominated by neither chaos or order. 3) characteristic of the fundamental organizing principles of evolution and nature.

You say so what? What does this have to do with the newspaper business? Nothing. But it has everything to do with what the communications business of this new century "ought to be."

So what "ought" a communications organization of the twenty-first century look like? I have some thoughts on this. But keep in mind that if we use the "chaordic" method the answer to the "ought to be" question is part of a "purpose, principals, concept, structure and practice" that will be discovered and organized as we all contribute the best we can offer. All of us? Yes. The chaordic "all" is not just the "all" that hold ownership, titles and stocks. This "all" is every person who works in the present organization from print media, to broadcast media to the new media to whatever media -- from the sales people to the programmers -- on and on and on. That "all" must also be expanded to every person who is a reader or an advertiser even to our suppliers. The "all" must be "all" media. A chaordic company cannot have a print media, broadcast media and a new media. It must be one organization that encompasses "all", as there must be one media that communicates "all" you are to and from "all" you are -- in an evolutionary stream.

We are on the cusp of a fundamental transition in the way the news is written, produced, distributed, interacted with, contributed to, participated with and funded. Dee Hock writes, "And we all must interconnect our stories with those of all other tribal storytellers in order to integrate them into a new, intelligible, larger story to inform the global community now emerging, or our stories will continue to set tribe against tribe in ever accelerating economic, social and physical combat."

This transition is moving us from an exclusive closed-system publishing model to an inclusive system model of news writers, editors, producers and news readers as contributors/participants all working together in a self-organizing manner to communicate, share and exchange information.

From Dee Hock, "Thinking about a society based on information and one based on physicality requires radically different perspective and consciousness. However, we prefer too often to ignore the fundamental differences and carry over into the Chaortic Age of managing information, ideas and values, concepts, and assumptions that proved useful in the mechanized Industrial Age of machine crafting, the age of managing things;..." Sounds like the news"paper" business to me. But I think there is something here for all businesses. Mr. Hock continues with the other Industrial Age cogs and wheels that we carry, "...concepts such as ownership, finite supply, obsolescence, loss by conveyance, containment, scarcity, separability, quantifiable measurement, statistical economics, mathematical monetarism, hierarchal structuralism, and command-and-control management."

In my view, the Chaortic Age communications organization - the inclusive publishing system model, is powered by and embraces the Internet model where micro audiences replace mass marketing, numbers become individuals and distributed nodes of content and registered participants replace centralized news facilities, producers and subscribers. This new communications/marketing news business model could only exist because of the network that is the Internet. It can only succeed if we transform the newspaper business into a communications organization though a chaordic process -- "purpose, principals, concept, structure and practice" - of discovery until a new communications business emerges along with a path that we "all" journey on together in an evolutionary manner.

What the newspaper business has seen and thus far evidenced in falling readership, loss of relevance and massive dismissal by young readers is nothing compared to what is in store as the Internet grows and society changes ever more rapidly because of it. The Internet is a self-organizing entity but without purpose or principles. The news business has at this moment in time a singular opportunity to be the organization that brings purpose and principles to this vast self-organizing network of users. If we do not, someone else, for better or worse, will. But how can we even begin to understand the changes that are taking place if our best communicators, our people, our systems our purpose and our principles are locked into a Industrial Age mechanized, command-and-control, hierarchal, monetized organization -- that we call the newspaper. What can be done? First we can remove the wall between news"paper" and new"media" and commit to a journey that will build a participatory news organization that welcomes and values "all" readers as valued contributors while upholding journalistic integrity for our own contributions and meeting our obligation as the voice of free speech and democratic values -- locally and globally. We must also recognize that it is time to redefine the news mission - it is no longer good enough to have just "local news" when you can find local news on Yahoo!, Digital Cites, from the Associated Press and from many other major and minor resources -- these outlets are changing the perspective of what "local news is" -- we cannot allow this.

Failure to dream of what a twenty-first century communications business "ought to be" will mean that our businesses will become increasing irrelevant to a readership that can participate and is given a voice in other facets of civic, social, environmental, global and local life -- yet cannot participate as a valued contributor to the news process. To be blocked from contributing what is relevant to them personally will move readers to gather around organizations that do enable this right. These organizations would then be in a position to impact the public thought for better or worse. Do not doubt that this is a defining moment for our industry, freedom of speech and democracy.

Removing the wall between news"paper" and "new"media, integrating journalistic and other company assets, the enabling of "all" contributors to publishing status and the establishment of participatory news/community environments are all essential in my view to transforming our news business into a 21st Century communications business. A communications business that will live up to new ideals while incorporating the old ones that have made it through the Chaordic Age fire of transition.

But what are we doing today? We are not evolving the news at Internet speed. Today news businesses in most cases are focusing on evolving and building everything but the news. The effort to think of what "ought to be" -- like building a participatory open-ended, inclusive, credible news publishing environment that enables extended story value, readership value and advertiser value on a community level -- are not being explored nearly enough. Instead a lot of time and money is being spent on news business things that have nothing to do with the current news mission let alone a chaordic one! We are building more Industrial Age mechanized, command-and-control, hierarchal, monetized organizations with our classified verticals, directories, niche sites, newspaper sites, etc. Worse yet we have become distracted by the eye candy of technology.

As Napster has shown and P2P (Peer-to-Peer) client software will shortly illustrate Industrial Age mechanized, command-and-control, hierarchal solutions will not stand up under the revolutionary changes that are taking place -- whether that be classifieds or the news. Rapid change is everywhere from soon to be released flexible digital paper and AOL/Gateway reader pads on and on to self-orgainizing networks that will make today's media chains look and feel like dinosaurs. One thing that I love about Dee Hocks' book are the "MiniMaxims" that are spread throughout like this one that fits in so well right here, "Only fools worship their tools." What are you creating with your tools?

If you attended the recent NAA Connections conference in San Francisco you probably heard General Colin Powell speak. What impacted me the most was when he related a story about when the Soviet Union was breaking up Gorbachev looked at him from across the table and said, "General you are going to have to find another enemy." From then on General Powell's world-view had to change. Those of you who left after that session didn't get the rest of the message as told by Philip Evans, Senior Vice President, Boston Consulting Group in a session titled, Blown to Bits. In which he stated, "The new (Internet) economics of information is melting the glue that holds together value chains, supply chains, consumer franchises and organizational hierarchies." I think the glue is melting everywhere. I think we need to examine our world-view. I also think that the local news product is sliding away from us as we try to hold on to it with an Industrial Age mind and organization.

As any "chaordic" or if you prefer "process" minded person will attest one thing doesn't just lead to another it leads to a faceted diamond of others. It is so with the process of writing this article. Inspiration came from Dee Hocks' book that I was pointed to by a friend from my Newshare/Clickshare days. That in turn reminded me of a document that I wrote in the spring of 1995 a short excerpt I include for you below.

"The future of the Internet is "interactivity". It is a future where the user is in control. It is our challenge to create a system wherein that can happen. For information marketers PEPI means that seeing, hearing and telling must be transformed into a "Personalized, Evolutionary, Participatory, Information" (PEPI) stream. A stream that the Subscriber not only experiences and responds to but one that they can alter and evolve with as well by adding their own information stream -- many to many - one to many - one to one."

Here is some of what Dee Hock says about information, "What is the significance of the 'in form' part of the word 'information'? What is the nature of that which is received from external sources and 'forms us' within? What is the nature of that which forms within us which we then feel compelled to transmit, and how does it form others when it is received? What allows formation of information, permits it to endure unaltered, yet be available at any time for transformation in infinite ways? Why and from where came the universal, perpetual urge to receive and transmit information -- the incessant desire to communicate? Is it an urge at all, or is it an unavoidable necessity -- an integral component essential to life? Or is it a principle beyond life itself? Could it be a fundamental, formative essence that gives shape and distinction to all things -- part of an inseparable whole universe?"

I am still on my quest to enable participatory information sharing but I am getting closer - but time is now of the essence. It is my hope to build that "PEPI" model using the "chaordic" method to develop a network of what I call "super local" news/community sites. The "purpose" of a "super local" news/community site is to enable the posting of and participation with "super local" journalistic news, information and community pages by a "super local community" of registered users on a 7/24 basis.

Here are some thoughts of mine as well as some quotes from others that I have gathered while on my journey. Let's put them into the "chaordic" soup and see what happens. Let's explore what this "super local" news/community site "ought to be" and it may lead us to what a communications business of the 21st Century "ought to be" as well.

  • The "super-local" news/community site will be developed from input gathered from the "super local"news/community. The "new" Media Director or "portal Publisher" and/or others who rise to the task will present the concept to the chamber of commerce, clubs, schools, colleges, etc. as well as news, sales, accounting, classified, circulation and other people at the "sponsoring media brand" inviting them, and helping them "all" to become involved. This will be an ongoing process of education, involvement and community/company relations. From these ongoing face-to-face meetings, online discussions, polls, etc. a terms of use agreement, privacy statement and advertising policy for the "super local" site will be formulated (and in the future amended). The value of the "community" is determined by the "shared values of the participants" in a fluid and evolutionary process. This process of "becoming" a community and "creating a shared value" is at the heart of any community, whether it exists in a physical or virtual space. It is what holds communities together -- it will be what holds our news/community together and makes it a work and strengthens it in both the physical and virtual world. This change is about building a better world one community at a time first -- a communications business second. From here would emerge the Purpose, Principles, People, Concept, Structure and Practice of the "super local" news/community site. Dee Hock', "Forming a chaordic organization begins with intensive search for Purpose, then proceeds to Principles, People, and Concept, and only then to Structure and Practice".

  • Because of the Internet "the new economy is about communication deep and wide. Communication is not just a sector of the economy. Communication is the economy." Kevin Kelly, former Executive Editor of Wired, author of New Rules for the New Economy

  • The "sponsoring media brand", "super local journalist/producer" and all others involved will seek to facilitate the news/community building process rather than control the news/community building process at the "super local" site. Doing this in keeping with the Purpose, Principles, People, Concept, Structure and Practice.

  • The "super local" journalist/producer would post stories directly online onto a discussion timeline-like format on the "super local news/community site." Here the item can be interacted with by a registered user base of readers through participatory news posts, news updates, discussions, polls and self-published sites maintained by neighborhoods, clubs, organizations, civic groups, government offices, educational institutions, religious organizations, libraries and resident non-profit home pages.

  • "Authors will become publishers, publishers will become retailers, retailers will be publishers." Steve Riggio, Barnesandnoble.com, Newsweek, June 5, 2000

  • "Super local" news/community site overlaid with participation and updates takes on some aspects of entertainment. This will increase its appeal to the one-time user who wants to get the history behind today's update as well as those users who come back daily to follow the "super local" news story or event timeline as it unfolds.

  • "If there was any agreement among the participants, it was that successful Web sites provide content that is targeted to a particular audience, is unique, is updated regularly, and is accurate and reliable. Oh, and the content should be entertaining as well." Jake Kircher, ZDNet, PC Magazine, June 13, 2000, The Long Haul (Screaming Media Conference)

  • A "super local" news/community site is a way to extend a media brand and news"paper" coverage area into "towns, communities and neighborhoods" through "super local journalist/producers". A series of sites builds a chaordic self-organizing news/community network.

  • "There will not be less media there will be more." Shelly Lazarus, Chairman and CEO, Ogilvy and Mather Worldwide, NAA Connections 2000

  • Print editors, from the "sponsoring media brand" will go online and "mine" the "super local" news/community site(s) and publish briefs in the paper under the "super local" community title bar. Briefs would direct print readers to the full story online at the "super local" news/community site.

  • Establishing "super local news/community" sites is an economical way to produce more "super local" news for the "paper" that the Circulation Department can leverage to sell newspapers under the existing and profitable "Industrial Age" revenue model -- while we transition to the"Chaordic Age" "super local" news/community network (Internet/Print) integrated model. An expansion of the "news-hole" specifically allocated to "super local news/community" briefs must be committed to if this advantage is to be explored.

    Can the above scenario work without an organizational mind change? No. But as Dee Hock says, "In such times as these, it is no failure to fall short of realizing all that we might dream; the failure is to fall short of dreaming all that we might realize. We must try!"

    I must try. Will you try? What will be the result if we do not?

    Please feel free to contact me with your ideas and comments at bre@globalhome.com. Or participate directly into the news/community flow at www.superlocalnews.com.

    About the author:
    Mr. Re has spent over twenty-five years in marketing, design and communications. His "new" media career has taken him from an early Internet startup called Newshare (www.Clickshare.com) that he helped found in 1994 and then to the www.INJersey.com start up formed by the Asbury Park Press. He is currently the New Media Manager at the Sioux City Journal in Iowa and a consultant to Hagadone Corp. a north Idaho based newspaper chain. Re's interest in the global nature of communications, community and participation can be experienced by visiting www.GlobalHome.com a site he has been evolving since 1995. Bernie can be reached at bre@globalhome.com.

    Reference links:

  • Birth of the Chaordic Age [ Amazon.com ]
  • The Chaordic Alliance: http://www.chaordic.org
  • Newshare/Clickshare: http://www.clickshare.com/
  • Sioux City Journal: http://www.siouxcityjournal.com/
  • Common-Mind.net: http://www.common-mind.net/
  • GlobalHome: http://www.globalhome.com

    ©2000 Inter-Vitae, Inc., Bernard Re, Jr. Any portion of this document may be copied in whole or in part as long as the source is attributed to the following URL www.SuperLocalNews.com.

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