by Shelton Bumgarner
It seems to me, the newspaper industry has finally reached a level of crisis and contraction that it might be willing to entertain a hail Mary pass strategy for its continued existence. Now, as I say repeatedly, I have no money, can’t code and don’t want to learn. As such, absolutely no one, but no one, listens to me.
And, really, maybe they shouldn’t.
I’m just a crank who likes to write at this point and the thing I’ve learned since I came back from Seoul is pretty much to be successful you have to be stable, have money and have some inkling of what your career is. To have such a career involves a complex series of metrics that I, alas, will never be able to attain in any traditional manner.
Having said all that, let’s waste some time and mull how one might save the newspaper industry at this late date. To me, this is a technological problem. So, as such, you need to build a new service from the ground up that not only would “save” newspapers via a rebirth online, but also address the existing issues associated with Twitter and Reddit. This may seem like a tall order, but it’s not really if you give it some thought.
What I would do, if I had enough money, is build an entirely new social media service whose whole reason for existence was to facilitate civil discussion. As such, I would look back to that most ancient of social media services, Usenet, for inspiration. The service would use the Usenet experience as a stepping off point. While Reddit is much like Usenet to some extent, I feel it’s such a ham-handed implementation as to be useless for my needs. It seems to me if you did as I proposed, you would have the following features.
Here are, going from basic to less basic the core features of the service I propose.
At the center of this service would be Posts. They would be a full page, multimedia and have a rich WYSIWYG editor people could use to write them with. It would be intuitive and robust and would make writing a post a joy to do. Now, in my imagination there would be two aspects to a Post in this service that would make them different — one is a video conference feature and the other is a minimum word count. You would almost be pressured into throwing in a video recorded video chat as part of any Post you wrote. Also, the service would demand you write, say, at least 300 words in a Post before you could put it into the system. This would prevent someone from simply say, “Meh” in a post, or using a post as a tweet-like thing. You might make some specific exceptions, for say, a politician not known for his long, cogent social media activity.
One critical aspect to all of this would be in-line editing. If you had the write to contribute to the system — more on that later — you would have the ability to in-line edit someone else’s post in the context of a thread. Again, you would have to write a minimum amount in each edit, you couldn’t just say “You suck.” This might take some getting used to for people who are used to Twitter, but it would likely grow on people.
I would study IRC and figure out ways to incorporate public text chat into the system in a big way. I think that might be really addictive if you did it right and would help with engagement on the service in general.
Now, the thread would also be crucial to this service. Only specific users would be allowed to start a new thread in a Group and this would hopefully significantly increase usability for everyone involved. Only Verified Account holders could start a thread at all. These would be people who the system trusted not to be abusive or go nuts for no reason.
In my imagination, there would be thousands and thousands of redundant Groups that would be created by people called System admins. These people would be in charge of naming the Groups and it would keep some order to the whole thing. Of all the people in the service, these people would be the most likely to be, well, paid. They would have the most rights within the system and as such the most responsibility as well.
Having said all that, how do newspapers fit into this? Well, it seems to me newspapers as we currently think of them are well on their way out and if you completely re-imagined how the public would interact with online content via the type of service I just proposed, I think that’s how you save newspapers. I could go on at great lengths about my specific vision for newspapers in this context, but no one listens to me and I’m feeling sad that I’ve come up with this great concept and yet nothing will ever be done with it.