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Sunday, 21 March 2010

In the realm of newspapers, innovation is still in short supply. Australia has seen less disruption than they've had in the US, but there's plenty of pain Down Under. No big changes, tho. We've seen The Australian buff up their print edition with a sleek new redesign. And there have been some minor adjustments at Fairfax in their web masthead configurations.

But nothing to really rock your boat. As usual, we've had to wait for the pain in America to reach levels of crisis so bad that editors actually listen to what the experts say.

This now seems to be happening.

Leading up to the SXSW Tech conference in Austin, Texas, Jay Rosen of New York University, posted on his blog about what he planned to discuss in front of delegates. The narrative, he says, is important. "Why are we serving people the news without the background narrative necessary to make sense of the news?" he asked.

Suppose your laptop continually received updates to software that was never installed on your laptop. If you can imagine a situation that absurd, then you are ready to partake in the Future of Context panel that I’ll be part of at the South by Southwest festival in Austin next week.

It seems some people have been listening to Rosen. But trust a geek to be the first to respond with the type of enthusiasm entrepreneurs - not the mainstream media - are known for.

John Temple is the editor of eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s new Peer News site, based in Hawaii. Temple has just hired three "hosts" who will do reporting for Peer News.

The site won't have comments, which editors don't like. But it will have something better and more revolutionary.

Peer won’t have “reporters” in the classical sense, it will have “hosts” who help facilitate this civic square answering questions for the community.

Sarah Lacey at Tech Crunch talks about Temple's plans for the structure of content.

On content, the most interesting thing Temple talked about was doing away with “articles” as we know them. He criticized the static, episodic nature by which journalists have traditional [sic] covered news, challenging readers to hunt through archives for the information they want. Instead, Peer’s “building block” will be a page that’s always updated almost like Wikipedia, or as he put it, “something closer to a living history on a topic that changes as it develops.”

This echoes Rosen's 7 March blog post:

Another way of putting the problem, though I admit this is kind of abstract: why are Wikipedia (which specializes in background knowledge) and nytimes.com (which specializes in newsy updates) separate services? Why aren’t they the same service, so that the movie still makes sense, even if you come in during the middle of it, as most of us do?

The guys with the big money are the tech entrepreneurs. But they're also the guys with big dreams. That's how they got where they are. Another eBay founder, Jeffrey Skoll, has set up an organisation to help nurture the next generation of social entrepreneurs - people who want to do business and make the world a better place simultaneously.

It strikes me that Pierre Omidyar wants something similar.

Pic credit (volcanic activity on Mauna Loa): Hawai'i Magazine.com

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