I will address some details of the criticism from Stijn Debrouwere, who writes that he is visiting my former company, Gazette Communications, and read C3 as preparation. First, though, I want to thoroughly agree with Debrouwere’s primary point, that “Steve’s work does feel very much like it’s only halfway there.”
Yes. Absolutely. I wrote C3 more than a year ago, hoping to stimulate discussion of innovation in the media and never presuming that I had all the answers. I have called attention in this blog and on Twitter to many other ideas from others, which I would incorporate if I were to write my current vision for where media companies should be headed (I won’t; I’m too busy helping other colleagues with great ideas try to make some of our ideas happen at TBD). And I do think my mobile-first strategy posts published last year and this year are probably more timely and urgent now than the ideas I presented in C3.
I encourage you to read all of Debrouwere’s post, which I addressed in a comment on his blog. What I have done here, though, is excerpt his primary criticisms, with my responses (taken from my comment on his blog last night, but elaborated a bit this morning):
1. Beware of the kitchen sink. [Debrouwere then summarizes several of my suggestions, saying they may be good, but they’re too much.] We need focus. We need to find a few key ways in which we can best serve our readers. To me that means helping people in ways that exercise our core competencies as journalists: our knowledge, our connections, our skillful reporting. Have a few strong points where you can really make a difference for a community, rather than halfheartedly having your fingers in just about anything.
Buttry response: A newspaper historically played multiple roles in a community and Google successfully plays multiple roles in the digital marketplace. I think the broad approach of C3 is a valid goal for a digital organization to pursue. Obviously, though, you don’t start out trying to do it all. You pick a project, or a few, to start moving in the C3 direction. I expect that we will use some C3 approaches at TBD, but don’t expect we will try to implement the full C3 approach.
Buttry response: I’m not going to split hairs with you over terminology. Whether you call it crowdsourcing, participation or user-generated content, you need to engage your community and provide a pleasant and useful place for community conversation. A whole section of the C3 Blueprint focused on conversation. And crowdsourcing was an important part of the enriched news section. The C3 approach focuses on giving people in your community a place to share their experiences and stories. Respect is at the core of that approach.
3. Become a connector, not a middle man. There are two ways to help people get what they want: either you become a middle man, or you become a connector. It might be enticing to try and monetize the “glue” you offer in a direct way. And that might bring in some money initially. But the internet is all about disintermediating. It’s about cutting out the middle man. Helping people to navigate the important parts of their life — housing, education, work, mobility, culture and play — is important, but it should add value, rather than skimming it off the top. eBay might turn a handsome profit, but that doesn’t mean people like it. Newspapers can’t afford to squander their cultural capital like that. There has to be a better way.
Buttry’s response. A key piece of advice in Jeff Jarvis’ What Would Google Do? is “Do what you do best and link to the rest.” This is exactly why many businesses in a community want a middleman to help them succeed in the digital marketplace. Yes, the local merchant who repairs cars or sells pizzas can sell directly without C3’s help. But just as those merchants may outsource such jobs as payroll or benefits so they can concentrate on what they do best, they may see value in using C3’s digital tools and expertise and in connecting with C3’s audience.
I appreciate Debrouwere’s criticism as well as his praise (no need to quote that). I’m not even sure I made it halfway there, wherever “there” is, but I’m trying to get there and I welcome anyone who can help show the way.