If I owned the NY Times

In Essay on December 9, 2009 by Dave Winer

I’m going to lunch today at the Times, meeting with both editorial people and technical people, all at the same table! Should be interesting.

I took a walk this morning and thought about what I’d like to communicate, and realized that with all those bright minds it might be hard to explain. I thought of the objections they’d likely raise, and what I’d say in response. Then I thought it might be better just to write it up in a blog post, and share it with everyone.

First, imho, the Times has to figure out how to open the doors to the smartest people in the world, the most informed, highest integrity, best intentioned people — to share what they know. The Times should be an environment for learning as well as being informed.

So. I’d offer a Times-hosted blog to anyone who has been quoted in the Times in the last 10 years. If you can show your name in print in a Times article, you can have a blog. This is a way of quickly creating a community with high quality and an interest in current events and issues.

Establish a rating system, where readers, who are members of the site, but not necessarily authors for it, say how valuable the writing of an author is.

In the first iteration, the reporters for the Times would now have a universe of sources assembling in real time as news is breaking. It may be a much more efficient way to gather information and points of view than calling around to sources. But you’ll keep doing that too.

The ratings serve two purposes. First, they help you and other readers find the good stuff — the same way ratings work on Amazon reviews. If you buy stuff online, you know how much we’ve come to depend on other reviewers’ experiences in making buying decisions. But the ratings will serve another purpose, they determine how much stock each author gets.

It’s not good enough to expect people to contribute their energy and best ideas without compensation. Reporters have been saying that for years, and I totally agree. It’s one of my biggest complaints about Twitter. If I applied for and got a programming job working at the company I’d get stock, but if I write for the site, and find new applications and bring other people online, I get the nothing. That gets pretty old pretty quickly.

If you want to attract the best people it helps to have a great brand like the Times, but it would be much better if they got upside as well. If they had a chance to get rich.

We know you don’t have enough money to pay them a salary, so give them stock. The Times surely has plenty of that, and you can always print more.

Those are the basic parameters. Create a space where smart people inform and teach each other, and reward them when the venture is successful, but not before. If this sounds familiar, it should — it’s the basic model for entrepreneurs and startups. I know it works to incentivize people to cooperate, I’ve seen it first-hand and benefited from it personally.

3 Responses to “If I owned the NY Times”

  1. Each author should also state their industry affiliations who who they have received funding for when writing articles as well.
    Readers are smart about finding out about their sources for information,
    Honesty is more valuable than the bad press of pretending to be unbiased.
    KNowing how much stock a writer has in the enterprise might be useful too.
    Boost for internal competition to produce good work?
    like this.

  2. I was thinking (for a few years now) about VRM and its relationship to news. It started years ago at the Syndicate conference when I came up with the idea of open source algorithms for news.

    The idea was that we finally got away from gatekeepers and had access to whatever news sources we wanted. We wouldn’t want to trade that for black box algorithms that bubbled certain news up to the top without us knowing how or why.

    For example, if you rely on (or just use) Google news, you have no idea why a certain story is highlighted over one that may have a different slant. At least in the past you kinda knew a certain publication was more liberal or conservative and took that into consideration.

    Now, we rely heavily on our social networks to do a good amount of filtering but it seems the users are still looking for more filters. Once we do accept a filter of any kind, I think it’s important to know how that filter works since it may ever so subtly (or heavily) affect what information we pay attention to.

    That lead me to think it would be cool to replace or even mix and match filters and REALLY cool if some of the filters were open source.

    Which led me to competition on filters and then to VRM.

    So we all have a stream. How about an open standard or modular way to apply filters to whatever stream we expose to them.

    I think the education field might have a helpful answer with rubrics, a defined way of scoring things.

    Once we have a defined way of scoring things (which itself should be open and flexible), third parties can now compete on whether we allow them to filter out stream.

    Pop in the New York Times filter, or the Dave Winer algorithm, or Twitter Social Graph plugin. Some will be human edited, others completely algorithmic. Some will rely on our social graphs, others lean toward Semantic Web algorithms.

    If you end up not liking it, try another.

    The point is that in the future of news, if any editing is to happen, the control of that editing needs to flip to the user side. We need third parties to help us, but we need to know how so, or at least be able to toggle that control.

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