Tag Archives: New York Times

Work is Irrelevant

Work, that of pursuing a specific passion or purpose, has become irrelevant. As technology increasingly gains momentum, we’ve moved from the age of work/life blur to the age of tech/life blur.

For instance, if you’re a writer, it’s not the content that matters (the work itself), but how the content is consumed and packaged. “We are on the brink of accessing digital content through what they call the ‘splinternet,’” argues Columbia Business School professor Rita McGrath. “Devices, hardware, software, applications and content, rather than being offered interoperably in a wide-open World Wide Web are increasingly going to be stacked up in proprietary ecosystems in which denizens can talk only to each other.”

So iPad apps like Flipboard, Zite and others like it are becoming the norm and offer “a much more natural way to consume content on a tablet, and the aggregation they provide is like having a customized newspaper available at any time,” argues Matthew Ingram on GigaOm. “The aggregation, personalization and customization that such apps allow is the future of content consumption.”

The introduction of the tablet has changed the reading experience such that it is now acceptable to charge for content. This is really the way the New York Times metered subscription is set up. When you pay for a New York Times subscription, you’re not really paying for content (the work), but paying to read it on your computer screen, your tablet, your Kindle, and your mobile app. You’re paying to read it how you want to on the splinternet. You’re not paying for the work, but the technology to consume it.

In the age of newspapers, we did charge for information, but now we charge for the customizability of how that information is delivered. It’s the media company’s job to design the experience of their digital offerings, not just create the content and they can’t keep up. So now, even though newspapers didn’t invent the printing press (the rapidity of typographical text production led to newspapers), they’re being pressured to invent the next revolution.

In reality, what will happen is just how the Internet created blogs (and what many are now calling a sub-optimal reading experience), tech start-ups will continue to invent new ways to consume information, and as a result, new companies and creators will come along with new types of content in response.

This is all happening at such a rapid pace (and in all industries, not just media which I’ve only used as an example), that we’re much more concerned with the rhythm and output of innovation than we are of the work itself.

We know most content on the web is crap. We know there’s nothing really amazing or revolutionary about what we consume on our iPhones. The most popular activity is Scrabble. I like to look and see where people are on Foursquare. You might check on the weather. On Google, I rarely find what I’m actually looking for, but I will receive twenty-four million results for trying. The tech/life blur says nevermind the banality of what you consume on technology, just be subservient to the fact that it exists.

That is why there is such a ginormous focus on work fulfillment when we have never cared about such a notion before. We want to work towards something bigger than ourselves, but technology is already bigger than ourselves, and so there’s a certain confusion, an aimlessness and a fractionation of our work. That which tells us that if you’re a writer, you’re no longer a writer. You’re a blogger, and an amateur coder, you can sell, you’re a marketer, you know PR, software and a bit of graphic design, you’re an accountant and you’re a publisher. Your side projects feed into your day job. And all of your jobs feed through the Internet. This is what it means to live on the Internet, consumed by the processes instead of the action.

Work is empty. Technology fills us. It’s not what we do, but how we do it. Of course that can only last so long before the focus on how we do something obliterates all meaning of what we’re doing.

You Like Mainstream Media Now, Don’t You?

Osama Bin Laden was killed yesterday and the reactions ranged from revelry to relief to wondering why the New York Times didn’t take down their paywall. C.W. Anderson, an assistant professor of media culture at CUNY tweeted, “NYT has a public obligation to place articles out from behind paywall in cases like this.”

Why on earth would they?

The Times has ten-thousand employees, all of which I’m sure will work over-time this week. In any other industry, when workers do more work, when they do more quality work that is life and earth changing, we pay them overtime. We reward them. We give them a raise.

But journalists? We devalue.

I don’t know where you were getting your news all day, but I was getting mine on NYTimes.com.  And yes, in one day, I read through all twenty articles of my monthly limit.

The Nieman Journalism Lab reported that the New York Times has the ability to take down the paywall for breaking-news, must-read stories. But I imagine that would only be relevant for issues of public safety. “You should pull down your paywall when it will save lives,” argues Brian Boyer, an Editor at the Chicago Tribune. “If you pull it for big news, you’re missing the point, right?”

Right. I imagine that Anderson tweeted The Times should remove their paywall because he values the quality, in-depth and expert reporting that The Times provides and wishes that to be available to as many as possible. But there are already twenty free articles, and so those many aren’t going to be affected by the paywall on a day like today.

NYT readers are like adolescent children, wanting their freedom, ignoring the hand that feeds them at will, but come running back in a crisis. We may like our conversations and opinion on Twitter, Facebook and blogs every other day of the week, but when it comes to what’s important, we still turn to the big dogs. Twitter, Facebook and blogs don’t supplant mainstream media as the best source of news, they amplify it.

Which is why it’s ever more important to support the media as an institution, despite the power and meaning behind citizen journalism. If we don’t, the next time we want consistent, reliable and trustworthy news, we risk finding a site that has shut down. Ultimately we do need expert content.

It is not the New York Times’ public obligation to put their paywall down. It is the public’s obligation to ensure the paywall stays up.

The Devolution of the Huffington Post, Forbes, and Hopefully Not The New York Times

With the arrival of the open web, it was okay not to pay writers. And when you didn’t pay writers, you needed more of them. As an editor, perhaps you invited writers to contribute that you wouldn’t normally to increase page views. You weren’t serving the reader, you were serving the advertiser. Soon you had the Huffington Post, which at one point was the darling of the free and open web, with nary a question on the model, because the content was good.

Inspired by its decentralized technology, the open web was supposed to shift the power from the corporation to the people. Many imagined a sort of utopian society that relied on abundance instead of the current economy’s premise of scarcity. And the web did fulfill the promise of abundance in the form of Free, but utopia would have to wait.

With distribution came dislocation, and companies were able to use the web to extract more and more value out of the people creating the value. The same industrial model worked on the networked net because technology still favors efficiency over say, any other human value.

As a result, the most popular articles on the Huffington Post today read more like TMZ or People magazine: “Awkward Wedding Photos: Who Knew That Tying The Knot Could Be This Hilarious?,” “Khloe Kardashian Talks Weight: ‘Love Handles’ And ‘Fat Days’,” “Courteney Cox on ‘Strictly Platonic’ Vacation With Co-Star Josh Hopkins,” “’Dancing With the Stars’ Recap: Week Two Elimination,” and “Woman Can’t Close Her Eyes After Bungled Plastic Surgery.”

Not to mention, the advertisements on Huffington Post are indistinguishable from the content, and both are seemingly designed that way: “The Original Crime Family – The Borgias Premiere Sunday 9p e/p on Showtime.”

Whatever Arianna Huffington banked from that list of articles (ads?) allowed her the audacity to poke fun of the New York Times paid subscription model this past April Fools’ Day. To be fair, the post pokes fun at the New York Times and the Huffington Post simultaneously, declaring in jest that the Huffington Post’s move to digital subscriptions will be “one that will strengthen our ability to provide high-quality journalism to readers around the world.” (We’re all in on the joke; Huffington hasn’t valued high-quality journalism for a great while.) Later, Huffington facetiously describes HuffPo’s signature offering as an adorable kitten slideshow. Which isn’t far from the truth. In fact, a kitten slideshow might be an improvement on their most popular offerings.

Nevertheless, other sites have followed suit (if anything, the web excels at copying). Almost a year ago, Forbes.com announced that it would open the door “to 1000s of unpaid contributors and [rather than commissioning quality in-house journalism] ‘Forbes editors will increasingly become curators of talent,’” reported Tech Crunch writer Paul Carr.

Carr predicted that the Forbes decision would result in the magazine suffering the “Death of a Thousand Hacks,” which has two meanings: “The first, much like the death of a thousand cuts, is that they’re chipping away at everything they used to represent by replacing real reporting with SEO-driven bullshit and an army of unpaid amateur hack bloggers. The second meaning is that those thousand hacks are going to kill their brand.”

Since then, hundreds of bloggers received invitations to join Forbes.com including myself. The email I received implored me to “Just continue to do what you do best–write. I am not looking for exclusive content (although it’s most welcome), request copyright or ask that you blog any more than you already do. Forbes does not wish to control, alter or affect your blog in any way,” the editor told me. “You can publish simultaneously on your blog and your personal Forbes.com blog… As an uncompensated contributor, your posts will be available to millions of dedicated Forbes readers.”

To be clear, the editor is only requesting permission to copy my work onto the open web in exchange for increased exposure instead of compensation. I wouldn’t even have to be held accountable for blogging regularly. When I inquired about the possibility of a consistent, paid position, the editor replied: “Can I *promise* regular, consistent writing position? That’s something you can do with your blog. Which brings us to your next question: Can I *promise* paid writing at a later date? I can say it is a possibility.”

Her response seemed fair and promising. However, when I asked her to point me to any examples of any bloggers on Forbes that started uncompensated and were now paid, the editor came up short. “This is such a new platform that I honestly can’t,” she replied. Instead, the editor supplied me with the contact information of a writer she had to cut when she lost her freelance budget, but was now excited to bring back with “some compensation.”

I expect this would be no surprise to Carr if he heard. He argued Forbes would do “what the Huffington Post does: pay a meager stipend to a tiny percentage top traffic drivers to save face [indeed, Forbes admits this proudly], and then expect the rest to work ‘for the exposure’. As the old saying goes, people die from exposure – but in this case, it might just be the whole publication that’s not long for this world.”

Companies of formerly strong reputation take on the content farm model, and then editors have the job of throwing spaghetti on the cupboard to see what sticks. Forbes calls this curation, but I sensed a distinct desperation from the editor who emailed.

The value shift from core product to peripheral offerings on the free web means companies extract enormous amounts of value from writers who rely on the promise of monetizing their exposure, in the form of, say, speaking engagements or TV appearances, instead of their work.

“Of course, the people hiring us to do those appearances believe they should get us for free as well, because our live performances will help publicize our books and movies. And so it goes, all the while being characterized as the new openness of a digital society, when in fact we are less open to one another than we are to exploitation from the usual suspects at the top of the traditional food chain,” argues digital theorist Douglas Rushkoff.

“The very same kinds of companies are making the same money off text, music, and movies—simply by different means,” argues Rushkoff. “Value is still being extracted from everyone who creates content that ends up freely viewable online. It’s simply not being passed down anymore.” Writers aren’t being paid, but advertisers are.

The New York Times has thus refused such a model in the interest of creating value, not extracting it. Good journalism, after all, is expensive. It takes time, money, bodies, effort and significant resources. While it can be replicated by machine, it can’t originate from one.

The recent introduction of the New York Times pay wall however, did not inspire the valuation of content from readers, but a further alignment with corporatism.

“When we insist on consuming it for free, we are pushing them toward something much closer to the broadcast television model, where ads fund everything,” argues Rushokoff. “We already know what that does for the quality of news and entertainment. Yet this is precisely the model that the ad-based hosts and search engines are pushing for. By encouraging us to devalue and deprofessionalize our work, these companies guarantee a mediaspace where only they get paid. They devalue the potential of the network itself to create value in new ways.”

So eager are we to let advertising dictate the availability of quality content that the free and open web has only given us an abundance of copies. The aggregation of creative material and original thought has declined.  No longer can we rely on corporate interests to create, sustain, build and evolve our platforms in a post-scarcity society. The solution, simply, is to value content, to respect the labor of individuals.

Lest you think such an approach is pie-in-the-sky, turn your attention towards The New Yorker, which “puts investigations of national security on the cover instead of celebs, yet it has the highest subscription renewal rate of any magazine in the country. A privately owned company, it is thought to be turning a profit of around $10m. Editorial decisions there are never made by focus groups,” reports Matt of 37signals.

If we want anything more than the most mediocre culture to survive, inform our consciousness and influence our future, writers deserve to get paid.