Blogbate round 3 OR Showdown at the MoJo Dojo

This is round 3 of a continuing back and forth between Phillip Smith and myself.

Legacy media organizations are where brilliant news innovations go to die.

So I fear a fundamental flaw in the design of the Knight-Mozilla partnership. However, the media partners you have are rather progressive media organizations. If this idea works with anyone (and it may), these are the most likely people with whom it would work.

And though I originally wrote my blog post because I was interested in advising the Knight Foundation on how to advance journalism and reporting, I am happy to re-frame the debate around Mozilla’s mission of continuing to proliferate the open web. Personally I find Mozilla’s mission admirable, but I still don’t think that it is best served by your current plan, summarized in the following video.

Knight Mozilla Journalism Partnership from Graham Wheeler on Vimeo.

Large media conglomerates have a terrible track record of openness. While tech companies like Facebook and Apple have come under scrutiny for having closed systems, or systems that don’t respect individual privacy, there are also many tech organizations who are very open, such as Google, who is Mozilla’s primary source of funding. And to answer your question about innovative tech organizations promoting openness with wide adoption by media, how about Twitter, Scribd and Instapaper?

What I really want to know, is how putting the very best and brightest news hackers in large media companies will proliferate the concept of the open web.

True many millions of dollars are about to be spent by media organizations on new initiatives, but individual projects rarely effect those decisions. Beyond that, a million dollar decision today, might be a million dollar loss and scrapped plan at the end of the financial year.

For example, look at TBD.com. It was a brilliant multi-million dollar idea that opened up the site to contribution from the community. Its spirit was in sharing news, sharing profits and by doing so making the community a better place. Allegedly something like $5 million was spent on it. It was gutted after just 3 months.

Unfortunately this is not an exception, it is the status quo with large media companies. So I fear that without executive support, shareholder confidence and financial feasibility studies presented about the value of the open web, brilliant ideas may be considered brilliant, but never implemented at scale.

Bottom-line is that I love what MoJo is trying to do, I even love the competition part of it, but I fear it will not work. I am only critical because I am passionate about both news innovation and the proliferation of openness and I want to see both concepts make significant progress.

Let me end with a quick anecdote.

It was Spring of 2010, a bright and warm day in Sacramento. After proposing a joint workshop we, tiny little news start-up The Sacramento Press, were invited to meet with the editor of 150 year old Sacramento Bee, in her office, in the heart of the newsroom.

We got through security and were escorted upstairs by the jovial, sarcastic and generally very affable online managing editor. But by the time we got to the newsroom, we realized what it felt like to be in the heart of a struggling organization. As we entered, the air was sucked from the room. Reporters, AMEs, and more less all editorial staffers present looked at us as if we were alien life forms.

While the meeting was tense we managed to arrange the workshop, but the feeling inside that newsroom was quite palpable.

I fear that feeling might be the everyday reality of the fellows you eventually select from your partnership. The concern being that your MoJo fellows might flourish as well as a Saber-toothed tiger stuck in the LaBrae Tar Pits.

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