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Congratulations to Charlie Sennott and his team on the launch of GlobalPost, a site that many see as a reaction to the shrinking number of foreign correspondents supported by US media outlets facing tough economic times. 

My sense is that GlobalPost won't get much of a honeymoon, simply because expectations are so high:  anything from the web that doesn't instantaneously replace and improve upon traditional media structures that took decades, even more than a century to build, are quickly dismissed as "not good enough." 

[Don't listen, Charlie.  You'll hear it -- but don't steer by it.]

That's what the folks at GlobalPost will hear from folks with experience in newsrooms, anyway.  What they'll hear from their new tech brethren is that Google is going to roll over and crush them in their sleep, and that they should just give up, and why were their servers down the first day anyway?  Are you sure you guys are ready to play in our world?

[Don't listen to that either, Charlie. Tell a joke instead. Here, I'll give you one:  "Hey, I'm gonna get more hamsters for the hamster wheels as soon as I get the cash." And if the person who's razzing you turns out to be a local, don't forget to offer to buy them lunch: programmers, like journalists, can be prickly on first contact, but like journalists, are easily befriended and make exceptionally loyal and useful friends]. 

What's the point?  Amy Gahran and I were discussing this earlier today.   Why GlobalPost?  Why  Why OffTheBus?  (Why Placeblogger?)

I have a theory.  Click the back button now if you don't want to hear it.  

Do you know what EC2 is?   EC2 is a service offered by Amazon.  More people are probably familiar with S3, their service that lets you have disk space on the web for pennies.  Quite a few popular online services, like Basecamp, use S3 to store customer data, because Amazon's boxes are cheaper and more reliable than anything they could buy on their own.

EC2 isn't storage -- it's compute cycles, the raw power of a server as it does what computer programs do:  serve web pages, generate maps, whatever.   You'll use EC2 as an insurance policy -- instead of buying powerful servers just in case you get a ton of traffic or new users one day,  EC2 lets you buy compute cycles like you buy electricity:  a lot when you need it, a little when you don't.    Services like these are generally called "cloud computing" because when you draw a diagram of your nifty new system, you'll represent these third party services as a cloud -- opaque, because you don't care what's in them, just that you get reliable utility from servers and storage that's "in the cloud."

I think sites like GlobalPost, and many others I could name are the first inklings of "journalism in the cloud".   Just as many tech outfits have figured out that it's too expensive to have too many fixed assets, many news outlets are faced with the fact that they can't support the same number of foreign correspondents or beat reporters.  The fundamental experiment that these sites are running, each with their own protocol, is this:  How can we make journalism happen where it's needed, when it's needed, and then redeploy elsewhere when things change?

Amy is great at asking questions, so she said, "But doesn't that mean reporters would have to move around a lot?"

"Not neccessarily.  A reporter could stay in the same location...if it worked, though, it would mean they'd report on more different subjects.  I think what's dying are beats, because beats are expensive."  

Are beats dying?  As Dan Gillmor once said to me, "File under "Interesting If True."  



After Matter:

After Matter itself shamelessly cribbed from the fabtacular PressThink.

Much of what I wrote here came out of a conversation I had with Amy Gahran. See Amy's take on -- and expansion of -- the idea here.

Chris Anderson takes a look, too: The Problem With Cloud Journalism May Be Earthbound Institutions.

Paul Gillin takes a look, and says what it might be: "It’s kind of a super stringer model made more efficient by the Internet."



DAMMIT LISA!!! Why are you


Why are you so freak'n smart.

Just fyi: Today somebody turned and said "you know one of the most profound things I've heard you say was "journalism will survive the death of its institutions"....

And of course, I had to stop and give credit where it is due. That is still one of the more insightful remarks on the current state of journalism I've heard. (notice the period). You gave words to something that I had been thinking but hadn't been able to express.

The notion of "cloud reporting" isa beautiful way of explaining (in two words) what usually takes me a mumbly paragraph: We only need to pay for the journalism we need. Cut the costs down and bring it up when needed by relying on the community to recognize its needed. At least - that's how it works on - GlobalPost has a different approach and I think it is unique and like you, I wish them luck.

I too expect the honymoon to be short, but it is important that they stick to their guns as long as they can (even in this economy). It's not a race - its about problem solving.

Thanks, Dave! I just have

Thanks, Dave!

I just have the advantage of having lived through it already. The current collapse we're seeing in journalism is eerily reminiscent of what happened in the high tech industry in the late 80's and the early 90's, where there was a broad, simultaneous crackup of the industry's major institutions. Wave after wave of layoffs emanated from HP, IBM, Digital Equipment Corporation, and many others, and there was a lot of hand-wringing about things like "who's going to invest in the next generation of processors," and "who's going to make and support the next operating system?"

Now, ten years later, you have Google, Linux, etc.

I want to emphasize that this was a very painful process for everyone in the industry, and the total process took most of a decade. During that time a lot of people left the industry and went into other careers because they were demoralized by how hard it was to make a living when they were getting laid off all the time, and how harsh the conditions were at work when they were under constant cost-cutting pressure.

As it turned out, a lot of the big institutions did survive the crackup, but few regained their leadership positions. Those positions in the industry are now occupied by companies that were tiny, or even just an idea, at the time when Ken Olson, then head of Digital, said that it was stupid to think that people would want a computer in their home.

The challenges of the people trying to save the big institutions are completely different than the people doing experiments that may become institutional.

The experimenters have to facet the fact that they're going to get up every day and try to do things they have no idea how to do. Basically, you have to feel willing to feel stupid every day. There's no warm existential blanket as there is at a conventional workplace, where if you're doing something stupid, you can always say, well, I think this is dumb, but my boss says we gotta do it. No, if there's stupidity's all you, baby.

For people who want to make the jump from an institutional context, where competence and professionalism is highly valued, one of the biggest things they'll have to give up is the feeling of confidence that goes with mastery. Most of the time you're going to be keenly aware that you have no idea what the hell you're doing...and then you're going to apply seat of pants to seat of chair and get to work. Scary -- thrilling -- and fun (except when it isn't!).


Oh, and the "surviving the

Oh, and the "surviving the death of its institutions" thing is one I turned into an essay, here.

You know, the talent for compression is a learnable skill. All you really have to do is monitor your own level of alertness, that "YES" feeling for certain words or phrases. It's a fun exercise to do this while listening to the radio while stuck in traffic.

And having it makes it much easier to get your point across. I chose "Placeblogger" the same way.


Great post, Lisa! I suspect

Great post, Lisa!

I suspect some your readers will be interested in a 30,000-word report -- OK, it's a book -- I'm finishing tomorrow for the Aspen Institute that examines the cloud in its many manifestations. It's called:

Identity in the Age of Cloud Computing:
How the next-generation Internet will impact business, governance and social interaction

I persuaded Aspen to release it under a Creative Commons NC license, the first time they've ever done that. Will pass along the url when it's online.

JD, that's not the first

JD, that's not the first thing you did for Aspen, is it? I feel like there's another around out there. And for me, length is a virtue; I love digging into something. So send me links, for old and new, and congrats on the book!