Friday, 27 March 2009

What is a newspaper anyway?

http://twitter.com/charlesarthurThe 'crisis' in the newspaper world is throwing up some difficult questions for people in the media. Questions about business models and content delivery. Notably, the BBC being disallowed to produce localised content in apparent competition with local papers; The Guardian syndicating its content through its new API; and the FT launching a business search engine.

Meanwhile, I've been having some interesting conversations with people in the media. This culminated in a recent Twitter exchange with Charles Arthur, The Guardian's tech editor (pictured). The thrust of his argument is that media is content creation. Google (ignoring, if you will, Streetview) is not part of the media, he argues. If you don't employ journalists, you're not a newspaper.

My response was that employing journalists is just a way for newspapers to guarantee supply of content. The purpose of newspapers is to transmit information not to pay salaries.

Lets take this further. If a newspaper just pays freelancers, is it still a newspaper? If a television channel outsources all the content creation, is it still part of the media?

Is Bleacher Report, the sports blog, part of the media? It doesn't employ journalists. It takes freely submitted contributions from volunteer bloggers, like me. It does some editing - although much of that is also done by volunteers - and selects writers for syndication to the likes of CBS.

Is CBS part of the media? Are you part of the media landscape if you publish syndicated news? What proportion of your content do you need to create yourself?

Isn't the whole media chain about aggregation, interpretation and transmission? The individual who "puts together a story" is simply aggregating information, interpreting it and transmitting it.

A newspaper takes stories from journalists and through the editing process interprets what is happening in the paper's sphere of interest. It then (traditionally) prints and distributes the news.

So Google Search, by pulling together information through an algorithm is interpreting each and every search undertaken. At the simplest level, a search for "Alex Guest" on Google.com leads to different results to the same search on Google.co.uk: it is geographically editing the information.

Now take other elements of the Google media group. YouTube publishes user-generated video content. Google Earth publishes photographs of the entire globe. Google Trends provides information on the hottest search topics. Google Maps... need I continue?

Each activity is about publishing information, much of it supported by ad revenue. Sounds like a newspaper to me.