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.