[Insert Title of Another Digital Trends Piece Here]

Speaking about new technologies that have the potential to significantly or irrevocably alter the state of journalism in the twenty-first century is an exercise in both grandstanding and educated speculation—primarily because we don’t exactly know what’s going to alter that state. (Case in point: the exponential growth of the photo-sharing site Pinterest, and the recent move by Flickr to disable pinning of copyrighted images.) This isn’t to say the matter isn’t worth discussing, which is precisely why February’s Carnival of Journalism asks what “emerging technology or digital trend  … will have a significant impact on journalism in the year or two ahead?” I’d like to argue that the second, qualifying question—“How do you see it playing out in terms of applications by journalists?”—is the more robust, and tricky, question to answer.

As an example, think back to last week when this story surfaced on Jim Romenesko’s blog: Nick O’Neill accused Forbes writer Kashmir Hill of stealing author Charles Duhigg’s work. An excerpt from Duhigg’s forthcoming book (The Power of Habit will be on bookstore shelves tomorrow) was published in The New York Times Magazine; Hill, according to O’Neill, “cut out the crap and got to the real shocker of the story,” something that grabbed her “a mind boggling 680,000 page views, a number that can literally make a writer’s career.” O’Neill’s fundamental question: “When someone else spends a significant amount of time to research and develop something, is it not them that deserves the majority of the recognition?” (Read Romenesko’s post, linked to in the first sentence of this paragraph. He has responses from all three parties, including Hill’s counter-argument that she provided plenty of in-story recognition of Duhigg and for his work.)

The digital trend here is one that has been around: linking and “repackaging” stories. Nieman Journalism Lab today published a good read by Jonathan Stray on the value of linking to other stories. But the essence of the matter comes down to the nature of journalism itself: sniffing out stories, conducting interviews and research with sources, and publishing a wholly original work. In the digital age, original works can be of the traditional variety or an amalgamation of information collected from previously published articles, which are then linked to, and this is what we call attribution. (By the way, I think both have merit. To be clear, plagiarism—what would have been, in this example, Hill’s taking Duhigg’s words without attributing him by name and without using quotation marks, which she did not do—is blatantly wrong, for professional and ethical reasons.)

How this might impact journalism rests squarely upon our interpretation of the act of reporting itself. Or, in other words, in a digital age, is information free?* What we gain by linking and repackaging are, respectively, more thorough and robust articles and a wider readership for certain stories. Depending upon the subject matter of said stories, we might view repackaging as a necessary function as it relates to our mission as journalists: exposing truths and drawing people’s focus to issues of paramount importance. (Another Nieman article to read: On ProPublica and “aggregation in the people’s interest.”)

But what complicates this interpretation somewhat—and what would complicate such an interpretation of a well known digital trend if the interpretation gained legs, so to speak—is economics. Ideas, and information, are not scarce goods, as economists would say. And if we behave as strict adherents to that rule, then the question of what journalists are worth, monetarily speaking, gets completely exploded. (Refer to last month’s Carnival topic, when we wondered if good journalists can be good capitalists; my sense is that no one wants to admit they are a capitalist, unless, of course, it’s at the risk of not receiving a check for a published article.)

Interesting to consider is a wider-scale, slightly adapted version of something like Spot.Us,** which would take the digital trend here—linking, repackaging—and ensure that compensation went to both the repackaging author and the writer whose material was repackaged. If that were the case, I wonder how many allegations of work-stealing would get thrown around.

*This is the point where some people will probably stop reading, as I always end up taking these Carnival of Journalism topics and turning them into questions better left to brandy-drinking sessions in fireplace-bedecked rooms replete with high-backed leather chairs. (If you have one of these rooms, please, let me know.)

**SHAMELESS PLUG TIME! I am still seeking funding to complete a story about a Mississippi cyclist struck from behind by a car, an accident which put her in the hospital and therapy for months, and has resulted in a frustrating series of events with the state’s legal system, mainly because of the qualifications of Mississippi’s three-feet law.

Double Your Money and Make a Stack

Why do journalists hate money?

This is an alternate interpretation of the part-facetious, part-disgustingly true question Michael Rosenblum poses in this month’s Carnival of Journalism: Can a good journalist also be a good capitalist?

I think the question itself—and this is not meant as a knock on Mr. Rosenblum—is a farce to begin with.* We need to explode the premise, so to speak, because what it belies is the central nature of journalism itself: the sale of a product.

What journalists sell is information. Acting as arbiters between the public and various worlds to which the public either doesn’t have access or doesn’t have adequate time to access, journalists’ main responsibility is to fight myriad forces aligned for preventing our getting the information, and then packaging that information—articles, photos, videos, tweets—for wide-scale dissemination.

Many journalists, then, are already capitalists. I receive a paycheck for my work at Urbanite. I control the means to my own production. If I don’t write, I don’t get paid.

Really, then, this month’s question is another, slightly revised iteration of the problematic issue plaguing twenty-first century journalism since the stock market crashed in 2008: In a digital-first world, where information is created and transmitted almost instantaneously, how does journalism remain relevant to the point of commanding readers’ respect in the form of payment?

To quote Dave Chappelle: I want them greenbacks.

Firstly, we should note that “traditional” journalism (quotation marks used because, well, what the hell is traditional journalism—print journalism?) isn’t going away. In 2010, The Atlantic turned a profit for the first time in a number of years; Esquire magazine, which many in the publishing world had left for dead in 2009, is doing well. Traditional journalism is recalibrating and reconfiguring—paywalls, digital-first, expansion of the business model into festivals and events—but it isn’t evaporating.

Secondly, we should note that Mr. Rosenblum’s initial question seems to be asking how journalists can get a bigger cut for what we do. There have been models of entrepreneurial journalism, to be sure: Spot.Us and CoPress, now defunct, are two that come to my mind readily. The Baltimore Brew is another, although I can’t speak to their money-making model outside of a Kickstarter campaign they completed recently.

But entrepreneurship is hard, and always has been. Noticing that entrepreneurial journalism is difficult—Hard work? At a start-up?! Bunk!—isn’t all that compelling a revelation.

No, what I think we’re really talking about is how journalists can sufficiently leverage their collective power to create economies of scale that are similarly powerful to the big guys. You know: Hearst, Gannett, Tribune, Conde Nast.

I don’t really have an answer. Mr. Rosenblum gets at one, and upon cursory inspection, it appears quite clever. But I don’t think we’ll arrive at any semblance of an answer if we’re fooling ourselves about the original premise.

Journalists, of course, can be good capitalists. We always have been.**

*Michael Rosenblum’s post came off a tad satirical. I could be wrong—my 23 years might be showing—but I think Mr. Rosenblum is aware of the tenuous nature of his own question.

**I should note that what we’re not debating is the value of journalism on some esoteric or intrinsic scale. I could talk until I’m blue in the face about why I think journalism is necessary for any successful democratic republic. But seeing as how WE’RE ALL A BUNCH OF DAMN LEFTIES, I don’t know how many people would listen.


Programmers, Here’s What I Want

This month’s Carnival of Journalism has graciously asked for my opinion on what gift I’d most enjoy from a programmer or developer, which is a relief, since Mother has informed me that my no longer being a ward of her home un-entitles me to things like Legos wrapped in reindeer-covered colored paper.

It’s an uncomplicated gift, and one I think many journalists of the digital age would like to find waiting for them underneath their Festivus poles: a design for an online newspaper or magazine site that not only looks great, but makes it easy for editors to categorize and organize stories online while being simple for users to find the latest news first.

Essentially, I’m reiterating the point Joshua Benton made over at Nieman Lab back in July—in response to Andy Rutledge’s proposed redesign of The New York Times’s homepage—which was: “the problems of large-scale information architecture for news sites are really hard problems.”

Which, well, sucks. It’s difficult to envision how an aesthetically-pleasing website—something that looks like Rutledge’s proposed redesign, which is now available as the WooTheme “Currents”—would alleviate the main problems still existing on newspaper websites. (For a great primer on some of these problems, check out Lauren Rabaino’s post on the life cycle of a newspaper story on 10,000 Words.) The first is how to give editorial staff ultimate control of which stories are populated to specific sections of the website; the second is how to ensure that readers can view breaking news without burying related articles or other news items; and the third, as I see it, is how you do this automatically so teams of editors don’t need to babysit the back-end of a content management system all day.

On smaller-scale sites, something like a weekly college newspaper, using some sort of CMS that forces editors to drag and drop stories into specific locations on the homepage and section pages (I’m thinking of my experiences with Polopoly’s College Publisher 5) makes sense: the editorial staff has ultimate control of where stories are populated on site (problem one), and because problem one is solved, problem two becomes easy to navigate, since editors can move latest news to the top of the homepage. Of course, performing these tasks manually means problem three still exists.

What makes the overarching problem particularly vexing is that smaller-scale iterations of such a phantom site are in use and mitigate all three issues. So, by way of example a la Benton, let’s stick with the website for The New York Times. That site is updated with lots of stories all day, and stories are accompanied by photos, slideshows, videos, blog posts, and user comments, among other things. Taken individually, it’s easy to point to aesthetically-pleasing sites that solve my aforementioned three problems. Blog posts? Look at Mashable. Photos? How about ThemeForest’s “Classica” or “Gridlocked” themes.

But how do we combine a multitude of elements into a large-scale news operation’s website so that editors can maintain control of where stories populate—in the print world, where stories are placed—without preventing readers from finding the breaking news and frees up editors from finagling with article placement on a site ad nauseum?

Programmers/developers … that’s what I want. I can’t promise lavish pay. I can’t even promise milk and cookies. Bourbon, though, I can do.