I just got through watching the series House of Cards and believe it or not, it leads me to a set of observations about news, and where it should be now, and the changes called-for are long overdue.
1. I'm a fan of modern TV series, as many people are. I love The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, The Wire, Deadwood, The West Wing, Battlestar Galactica, Breaking Bad, Homeland, Mad Men. There are so many, and they're great.
2. I love watching them as I would read a book, at my own pace.
3. This is a theme of modern media. It's why Napster was such a breakthrough. All of a sudden instead of being programmed, I could do the programming myself. Same thing with the travel industry, vacation rentals, retail, love -- everything. By now the pattern should be obvious to everyone. The users do the programming now. It creates new interest in, and demand for, creativity. THe fear of the entertainment industry was a fear of change. There was never a reason to be scared of irrelevance. Creativity is more in demand now that it ever was.
4. It's as if the Netflix management had a come-to-jesus type off-site and the chairman said to his people -- what do our customers really want and let's see if we can give it to them. The result was House of Cards. Exactly on the terms that the users have been demanding since Napster. Entertain us, but we want to do the programming ourselves. We will do the programming ourselves, whether you like it or not. It's our time, our lives, our way of appreciating each other.
5. Did it work? Yes. Was it as great as the others? It showed promise at the beginning of being as epic as The Wire or West Wing, but it trailed off into ridiculousness. That's okay. Homeland did that too. Will I pay for Season 2, if there is one? Yes I will, without a doubt.
6. And get this, I didn't just pay for it, I signed up for $8 a month. I had been a longtime Netflix customer, but late last year, I unsubbed. But they got me back. And the deeper I got into House of Cards, the more they got me back. I'll give them another year, let's see what they come up with.
7. Now what does this have to do with news?
8. Everything. News needs to do the same recalc. Come-to-jesus and let's figure out what it is that the customers want, exactly, and give it to them, no compromises -- and see what happens. It's what you're doing anyway, as you pretend the pre-Internet news distribution system still exists.
9. When you do that, you'll see very clearly that what the news industry needs is a cooperative venture that's external to all the news orgs, as Hulu was to the entertainment divisions of the networks, and boot up a new distribution system. Twitter and Facebook have shown you how to do it, although it wasn't necessary to wait this long -- you've now waited long enough. The new system will look like Twitter. You have to be present everywhere your news is in demand. The news industry should have a system tailored to the realities of news, the way Netflix has moved to become the HBO of the Internet age. We need news like that too.
10. News orgs should also bring bloggers in-house, not to write for their pubs, but to co-locate intellectually. I wrote about this in an earlier piece, where I suggested the NYT do this. I did not mean to say that they should publish the bloggers in the paper or on its website. Just house them on premises. I'm thinking about serendipity. Overhearing elevator conversations. Eating lunch in the same cafeteria, waiting in the same line for the coffee cart. Inevitably the two cultures will influence each other and this would be good for both.
11. Same thing with users and the flow of news. Use the same follower model that Twitter uses. Have USA Today compete with a random group of bloggers located nowhere in particular. We will develop new tools that let people combine news in a multitude of ways. The same way we want to program our entertainment, we must be able to program our news flows.
12. Twitter is being very cooperative by closing off channels of innovation to developers. You can harness that energy immediately by zigging to their zag. Unlike movies, which are best viewed serially, news allows for much more varied types of flows. Some people believe this can happen to video too, but much more has been possible with news for the last decade.
This thread will continue.