Thursday, March 02, 2006
Steve Outing answers five questions about web publishing future
Publish: The definitive authority on web publishing and print
Five Questions For: Online Media Pioneer Steve Outing
March 2, 2006
By Stephen Bryant
Steve Outing's been in the new media business since 1992, when, as a
graphics editor for the San Francisco Chronicle, he helped the paper
launch The Gate, SFGate.com's BBS predecessor.
Outing's been involved with online media and journalism ever since. He
writes Stop the Presses, an interactive media column for Editor and
Publisher. And, from 2001 until last month, he was a senior editor at the
Yesterday was Outing's first day at his new citizen journalism start-up,
the Enthusiast Group, which aims to bring citizen media to the niche
sports enthusiast market.
It's a heady time in citizen media. The user-generated content phenomenon
is gathering steam with the help of popular sites such as digg.com.
Yet, as with all relatively new phenomena, there is still some confusion
about the definition of "news 2.0." Is it citizen media? News aggregation?
Blogging? All of the above?
I caught up with Steve and asked him a few questions about his new job,
and about the state of citizen media.
1. Bayosphere, kaput. Backfence, struggling. How will the Enthusiast Group
learn from the mistakes of its predecessors? What's your business model?
OK, well, first let me reject your apparent premise that "citizen media"
is in trouble. I think it's way too early to say that the Bayosphere thing
means much. Dan Gillmor was pretty forthright in publicly suggesting that
it was in part his fault that Bayosphere didn't get on track.that he
learned he's more a dot-org than a dot-com guy and went off to found a
citizen-media nonprofit organization. He clearly doesn't think the
citizen-media concept is without promise or we'd have seen him go back to
writing a tech column. (Disclosure: Dan is one of the angel investors in
our new company.) Backfence: still seems too early to give them a fair
You can look at some of the smaller "citJ" initiatives that are covering
hyper-local news, and some of them are doing well as still-tiny but
successful media outlets. The ones that seem to be doing best.Baristanet
and Westportnow, to cite a couple that I think are getting somewhere.have
strong personalities driving the things.
They're getting traction locally because there's a highly visible "star"
of the site creating content and reporting and interviewing people, and
encouraging community members to contribute content and coaching them.
I like that model a lot more than just creating tools to allow "citizens"
to submit content without a driving personality greasing the wheels.
So, the Enthusiast Group is publisher of a network of participatory Web
sites about sports and activities that people are passionate about. Our
model is similar to what I just described.
An enthusiast-in-chief will guide our site on mountain biking, for
example, not only writing about what he loves, but reaching out to the
biking community and encouraging them to share their stories.
I won't call what we're doing "citizen journalism"; that's not a term we
plan to use in getting sports enthusiasts to participate on our sites. (I
think using it would intimidate many people.) We're really about creating
a community of people who are passionate about the same thing and get joy
out of sharing their adventures. There's more to it, but we're still in
stealth mode for a little bit longer (hey, I've only been full time on
this one day!), so it seems silly to say more.
2. There's been a lot of blowback against the term "citizen journalism."
Most recently, your former Poynter associate Kelly McBride mentioned how
the term was misused by Web properties. How do you, personally, define
citizen journalism? Is the term even necessary when you're inviting sports
enthusiasts to share their experiences?
In my own writing, I've used the term "citizen journalism," because I
think people in the industry understand what it means (and I'm usually
writing for a media industry audience). But I don't really like the term.
I'm actually OK with "citizen media" or "participatory media"; I think as
an umbrella term, those are appropriate for what we're doing with
But I'm not going to play up those phrases when I'm encouraging sports
enthusiasts to share their experiences. Sharing, telling their stories ...
those are better descriptions of what we're trying to do.
I'll reserve "citizen media" mostly for the corporate site that explains
the company's mission.
There are several things wrong with the term "citizen journalism." One of
the worst is that when you invite people to write and submit whatever they
want, you get people publishing press releases, commercial messages, etc.
Clearly not everything you get is anything remotely resembling
"journalism".though some of it is.
3. A company called Pluck recently unveiled its BlogBurst syndication
network, which will cull blog content and push it via RSS to newspaper
sites like the Washington Post and the San Francisco Chronicle. What does
this mean, if anything, for the relationship of blogs to MSM?
A continuation of the trend of newspapers opening up to content from "the
outside." That's been an awfully slow process, but we're starting to see
some newspapers open the door at least a crack.
WashingtonPost.com, clearly an industry leader, now puts Technorati links
to blogs on its articles, so readers of its Web site can see what bloggers
are writing about Post stories (and some of it will be extremely
To the Internet community, that's no big deal, but for newspapers it's a
major change. You can argue that it's taken newspapers way to long to get
this far, but at least it's happening with some of them. Sites like the
Post's will, I hope, get more newspapers to follow suit.
I guess it also demonstrates that mainstream media takes independent blogs
(at least the good ones) seriously now.
4. Digg.com: the power of citizen-driven media or tyranny of the masses?
Ummm, both? Overall, I like the concept of "citizen editors".of the
readers deciding what deserves to be up front. I think there'll be a place
for this form of news selection as well as traditional editor-driven news
Maybe a certain segment of the public will prefer to trust such group news
selection; another will prefer traditional editors. And sometimes we'll
flip back and forth, depending on our moods.
It might be interesting to see how the public's choices for today's top
news compare with that of the front-page editor of the New York Times. I
don't think there's any danger of the army of citizen editors putting
page-one editors out of work, just as algorithm-selected news a la Google
5. Jay Rosen recently released his list of top blogging newspapers. I was
disheartened, but not surprised, to see that the NYTimes wasn't on that
list. The Washington Post, on the other hand, seems to be leaping into the
online era with Technorati and del.icio.us links, and over 30 blogs.
What's holding the New York Times back?
I wonder if the Timesfolk would say this, but it seems obvious to me. The
Times, perhaps more so than any other newspaper in the U.S., has a "voice"
that it wants badly to protect. By weakening the editing process in
allowing staff blogging, that's a tough thing for a paper like the Times
to swallow. If you've got a Times correspondent blogging live from Baghdad
and not going through the normal editing process, that's a significant
change. (I think the Times should loosen up; they've got great people and
they ought to be able to trust them. Plus, they have the resources to do
fast back-editing to catch problems.)
That's the staff blogs. When you get to opening it up to hosting community
members' blogs, that's even harder for an organization like NYT to accept.
Rosen's survey noted that the Houston Chronicle was tops in part because
of a great community blogging initiative. I just can't imagine the Times
loosening up to that degree!
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