Love doesn’t scale

I wish I could take credit for the headline.

But I believe it was originated by open-source advocate Eric S. Raymond.

I read “Love doesn’t scale” in comments at ReadWriteWeb. There, Bernard Lunn had written about a “reverse network effect.” That is, virtual communities can become too big. This would be more than a case of diminishing returns. Instead, “as new people join, others are motivated to leave.”

Some comments there also refer to this effect as the Laffer curve.

According to Meatball Wiki: “When a group grows from dozens of individuals to thousands, it becomes impossible to feel any real acquaintance with more than a fraction of the population. When this happens, community standards and unwritten rules stop working. The group loses focus. Things fall apart.”

What this has to do with news is that part of the industry’s problem could be that the players got too big. Maybe we are less a part of the communities we serve, and maybe part of the reason is size, in various ways.

For one thing, in a smaller set-up, it’s more likely that various people would know each other and interact with each other.

Paul Bradshaw, of the Online Journalism Blog and a colleague at Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits, recently wrote about the potential for news site moderators to collect story leads from comments left at the site.

Bradshaw’s posts followed one by Todd Nash, an online community moderator for The Guardian.

My short answer is that I don’t think either of them are considering the issue in the best way, but Nash is closer to the mark. He does conclude, “Perhaps it is now time for the journalists to take inspiration from their communities as well.”

Compare these two questions, and the frames of reference.

1. “How can we (news organizations and journalists) best use the ‘community’ and interactive features of our Web site?”

2. “How can we (as above) best use our Web site to serve the community?”

I don’t mean to imply that they don’t intend the site to serve the community — but some of these pieces don’t well indicate that.

Why do many news sites consider moderation to be policing? A better model would be a moderator on a panel, who coordinates and facilitates discussion.

More good perspectives:

* Clyde Bentley of the Missouri School of Journalism — He says, “Newspapers are farms, not factories.”

* Howard Owens, publisher of the Batavian, and former director of  digital publishing for Gatehouse Media — See “The imperative of localism and local news” (and more).

*Journalism That Matters — Key facets of JTM include high-tech and high-touch; “storytelling to create healthy communities” (although I’d vote for “foster” instead of “create”); and journalism as conversation.

For myself, I acknowledge that I don’t mix much with people where I live. On a copy editor’s schedule, it’s hard to mix much with people in general. But, for instance, at least I remind my paper that not everyone goes to college and works in an office.

My favorite metaphor of a good newspaper is that it of a village plaza. It’s the hub. But if you don’t mix with the people, it’s an empty shell.

Space for the public

Newspapers are, or should be, a metaphorical village plaza, and maybe a village guide.

That is, people generally ought to be able to use the paper (taken as a whole) to find whatever they’re looking for about a given community. If it doesn’t have what you’re looking for, it should still be able to point people in the right direction.

Combine this idea with newsrooms’ growing transparancy and digital connections and opportunities and other trends, and consider making the physical space inviting to the public.

Chris O’Brien of the Next Newsroom project asks about “a space for the public to gather to discuss important community issues.”

David Cohn has suggested “a space for content producers to come and and work on stories in collaboration with their local reporters.” The People’s Channel, a public-access cable TV site, does something loosely like this.

Other possibilities:

* Have a public place for food and drink.

* Offer public wi-fi, digital terminals or both.

* Have a small public library just for community information. Including reference service.

* From the building or within it, display current work other than the print paper. This could take any of a few forms, such as a news ticker with LEDs, or one or more screens of any size showing digital work.

Published in: on November 14, 2007 at 6:08 am  Leave a Comment  
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