Future media challenges are about finding compasses not maps

Friday 8 June 2012, 10:31

Charles Miller Charles Miller edits the College of Journalism blog and produces documentaries for the BBC Money Programme. Twitter: @chblm

Ade Oshineye Ade Oshineye So what came out of the BBC's Connected Communities conference?

Well, lots of ideas, the articulation of plenty of complications and frustrations, some flashes of inspiration, and some hard-headed realism - or depressing frankness, depending on how you were feeling.

It took Ade Oshineye of Google+ (above) to offer a philosophical perspective on the challenges.

What is the difference between a map and a compass? he asked. His answer: people have too much faith in maps, which are, in the end, just someone else's view of the world. Whereas a compass only gives you a rough direction and we don't expect more of it than that.

The point? It's the same with finding a successful model for local media in the future: getting the direction right is better than trying to find the perfect strategy with the false certainty of a map.

What counts, Oshineye said, is trying out new formats, exploring hybrids and discovering new communities.

"Rolling thunder" is his metaphor for encouraging an approach of improving with small changes rather than waiting for the big bang solution. Even bookshelves, he said, have evolved over years: boring technology may have the answer to your problem.

Google+ Hangouts, he said, is an example of boring technology - video chat - being used in a new way. What's the equivalent for the dilemmas of journalistic models?

Google+ has taught him that if you apply boring technology to interesting people you can get something new: "The hard part is coming up with the right metrics to see if you're getting there."

The day ended with a keynote from Jan Schaffer, executive director of J-Lab: the Institute for Interactive Journalism. She reported on experiments in the US that have been trying to link hyperlocal news organisations and partner them with more traditional media. Some had worked, some hadn't. But much had been learnt.

Schaffer had an intriguing slide describing how some media organisations are now inviting others to help themselves to their content. It was headed 'Rules for Stealing'. They included such things as requiring attribution, forbidding sale of the content and not allowing links to be removed.

Schaffer admitted that, while content aggregation had been shown to work under some conditions to the benefit of all, sadly the aggregation of advertising between local projects had proved stubbornly difficult.

Still, as Oshineye had explained earlier, it sounded like there were some useful compass directions to be gleaned from all this. Schaffer is publishing a full report on her work shortly.

She summed it up on a positive note: "Collaboration is the new competition." It was a reassuring thought with which to head to the Salford tram. 

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