This chapter is a free excerpt from The Forbes Model For Journalism In The Digital Age.
David Kirkpatrick is Techonomy’s founder and CEO. David’s first career was at Fortune magazine, where he distinguished himself as one of the media industry’s leading technology writers. He was also the creator and host of Fortune’s annual Brainstorm conference. Following all that, he literally wrote the book on Facebook, calling it The Facebook Effect.
Techonomy’s first conference in Lake Tahoe attracted the likes of Bill Gates, Eric Schmidt, Reid Hoffman, and others throughout industry, government, and media. “People now have these extraordinary tools of mobile and social change in their hands,” said David, “which are giving them this tremendous new empowerment.” We all saw the dramatic impact that’s had on foreign governments. David saw industry coming face-to-face with the social power of employees and customers and wrote about just that in his provocative, much-talked about Forbes cover story, Social Power and the Coming Corporate Revolution.
Looking back at all the magazine pieces, newspaper articles, blog posts, tweets and videos that I’ve consumed and shared about the media business in the last ten years, I can remember a few others that stopped me in my tracks.
First came EPIC 2014, an eight minute flash movie released in 2004 for presentation at a fictional Museum of Media History. It took the breath away from many of traditional media’s elite editors. It captures a world in which the power unleashed by the merger of Google and Amazon reduces The New York Times to a “print newsletter for the elite and the elderly.” Upon watching it again for the first time in years, the overarching message and the predicted fate of many newspapers still rings true, though the antagonists in the corporate contraction might be very different today.
A few years later came this article, from Michael Hirschorn in The Atlantic:
Not only do you allow your reporters to blog; you make them the hubs of their own social networks, the maestros of their own wikis, the masters of their own many-to-many realms… Go even further: incentivize the [pop-culture] critics and reporters by allowing them to profit based on the popularity of their sites; make it worth their while to stick around.Hirschorn’s thoughts on how to “save” the newspaper industry made me spring from my desk chair at home on Thanksgiving day, run down the stairs to find my wife and tell her that someone had stolen my idea. Of course, the author hadn’t, and I later told him that story. His idea was similar to one I was working on that eventually resulted in True/Slant, the startup I founded. Now, with much updated thinking, it’s a lot of what we’re up to at Forbes as we incentivize experienced and knowledgeable content creators to build audiences around their own individually branded pages on Forbes.com. Somewhat eerily, our model loosely matches EPIC’s predictions about what would be.
Then came this, from Andrew Sullivan, also in The Atlantic:
Reading at a monitor, at a desk, or on an iPhone provokes a querulous, impatient, distracted attitude, a demand for instant, usable information, that is simply not conducive to opening a novel or a favorite magazine on the couch. Reading on paper evokes a more relaxed and meditative response. The message dictates the medium. And each medium has its place – as long as one is not mistaken for the other.As I was about to head to Forbes, I thought a lot about how Sullivan, a great blogger and a great writer, was able to glide from digital to print, making sure his voice was heard and his audience could find him. His personal strategy remains at the forefront of my mind today as we re-imagine Forbes magazine. We’re making it possible for staffers and contributors alike to produce content for the chaotic forum of a digital environment, then settle into the “meditative” pages of our magazine by recasting their work from Forbes.com (or just coming up with new stories) for a group of print readers with different needs.
And more recently this, from Paul Ford in New York Magazine:
Social media has no understanding of anything aside from the connections between individuals and the ceaseless flow of time: No beginnings, and no endings. These disparate threads of human existence alternately fascinate and horrify that part of the media world that grew up on topic sentences and strong conclusions. This world of old media is like a giant steampunk machine that organizes time into stories. I call it the Epiphanator, and it has always known the value of a meaningful conclusion.
– via Facebook and the Epiphanator: An End to Endings?, 2011Obsessed with Facebook or not, It makes you think about how journalism is in danger of being reduced to soulless, disjointed nuggets as blogging platforms – and reporting, too – give way to not only Facebook, but 140-character Tweets and text messaging. The arrival of Google+ does nothing to alleviate such a fear. Actually, as it relates Forbes, I’m a bit comforted by the notion of The Epiphanator. First, we have a magazine for journalists to momentarily stop the stream so they can reflect and provide that “conclusion” before the reader reaches the “■” (that’s how Ford symbolized it) at the end of an article. Second, our digital platform is all about giving topic-specific experts the tools to add context, analysis and perspective before audiences reach a post’s “■.”
Forbes built a new model for journalism that offers opportunities for knowledgeable content creators to ride the news stream or stop the “ceaseless flow of time.” Andy Greenberg stopped it with an exclusive magazine article just as Julian Assange was making headlines every minute. David Whelan did, too, when he told the dramatic tale of Harvard’s Clayton Christensen, whose academic research into the medical establishment collided head-on with his personal health issues.
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