Publishers need to focus on competitive advantages, not commoditized soft skills

This is another great piece by you; kind of a synthesis of your larger catalog. I completely agree with the opportunity for publishers to own the “idea” slice of journalism’s supply chain, leaving downstream segments to those best equipped for them (e.g. FB or GOOG in data/code/horsepower).

In some respects, investigative journalists are like an energy E&P company (“information gathering”); traditional journalists are like the refiners of news’ raw feedstock (“organization & sense-making”); and there are infinite niche opportunities for specialization or integration across the spectrum.

What you describe is a hybrid system, in which humans manually contribute news’ subjective inputs and tech manages the algorithmic processes. Hybridity is no doubt the next evolution of tech — a realization and integration of applications.

However, I’m curious whether or not you think tech already operates — and can commandeer — even more of journalism’s stack than you intimate herein. Specifically, you say…

“We in journalism will also benefit from and can help with efforts to identify trust, authority, expertise, and originality of sources.”

Tech already has an answer for such “efforts.” For example, crowdsourcing: Wikipedia’s wikis and AirBnB’s ratings systems occupy their own niches, specializing in the agency of all these qualities you mention.

In such a way, hasn’t tech already demonstrated an ability to transform subjective qualities like “trust” and “authority” into objective terms? Although your mention that “journalism… can help with efforts,” is there really a need for hybridity or manual curation of these inputs — this collective part of the stack — if tech can automate them?

These are important questions, because publishers have been modularized by upstarts, and with few exceptions, an incumbent’s strategic response to such classic disruption requires an understanding of his unique assets.

In response to new media’s competitive threat, traditional media continually, defensively touted its own “credibility.” Is that really incumbents’ unique, differentiated asset: the goodwill of credibility, of trust, of authority? Those are undoubtedly intangible assets worth some quantum of value… but that value seems to have been overstated.

That’s perhaps the greatest miscalculation made by journalism’s incumbents: because they had accumulated that goodwill over decades, old media thought it’d take decades for upstarts to accrue their own. Playing defense, incumbents hid behind their reputation and stayed-the-course, but tech seems to have quickly disintermediated that rampart.

Today, checks-and-balances from third parties (like downstream or end-users) are more effective than any time in history. Given the openness & availability of information, tech has equipped us all to evaluate “credibility.” That’s before considering niche solutions that have already been developed for the specific purpose of automating tasks like fact-checking.

To be sure, quality control is as important as ever. As a wildcatter tapping the news wellhead, The New York Times is responsible for authenticating its own sources; no player is exonerated from the requirement of self-regulation, because, at very least, the ignominy of violating that trust is material. Yet, trust is the rule, not the exception. Trust is not a unique asset; it’s been commoditized by tech much like AirBnB unto Marriott.

The point is, essentially, it doesn’t benefit resource & capital-constrained journalism to “help with efforts to identify trust, authority, expertise, and originality of sources.” Beyond its own quality control, any publication doting on such efforts is focusing on the wrong ball. Instead of exerting all this old-fashioned, manual effort on quality control, embrace the automatic/semi-automatic tools already available. Free up the journalistic organization’s resources & capital to optimize its core competency.

“Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away...” 👉

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