Washington Post – 10 Principles

Jeff Jarvis writes that the Washington Post, which recently posted its 10 Web Principles needs an 11’th – a commitment to collaborate with readers.

His argument seems to be that the paper is still casting its self in the center and hasn’t come completely to grips with its role as an institution shaping the relationship it and its journalists have with the community and their discussion of the news.

While it’s true that they haven’t defined that fully, principle 5 says

“We embrace chats, blogs and multimedia presentations as contributions to our journalism.”

While principle 7 says

“We recognize and support the central role of opinion, personality and reader-generated content on the Web.” 

That same principle goes on to instructing journalist to separate opinion from reporting.

To me these principles are a good start – because they commit the Post to an integrated Web and Print strategy – breaking stories in whatever medium is ready first (typically the Web) at a time when advertising revenue to cover this change not shifted as markedly as the papers reporting will.

While it would have been nice to see principles specifically related to user engagement – it is also no surprise that these are not listed – both because this could be the basis of a competitive strategy but more likely because they’re learning how this fits with their role as a news (not opinion) organization.

What’s interesting is the Post has developed an ad-hoc social network around the active commenting on their articles. This community could be the source for experts, opinion leaders and sources for Post reporting – if mapped and harnessed. It’s this type of engagement with a social network – that likely doesn’t define it’s self as a social network – that is likely at the core of Jeff’s post.

It’s a set of relationships with audience that no media has effectively defined – which explains why the is no 11th Principle – yet.

I’d expect the Post will be among the first to identify the issues and define the mechanism that move readers from commenting to contributing journalistically. I also hope they give some thought to how they can build the name recognition those commenting develop into an engaged social community that connects around news and story development.

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Recognition in the Attention Economy

Michael Goldhaber’s prescient 1997 article “The Attention Economy and the Net” argues that we are at a time of transition between economic systems. The industrial economy is giving way to an attention economy – and with it the way value is apportioned.

The underlying argument is that when there is an abundance of information the value of any piece of it declines because much of it is substitutable. The only defense is originality – and even then it is constrained because we only have 24 hours to give attention – and the glut of information sometimes distracts from finding originality.

What’s hard to fathom is that organizations that historically have been dedicated to distributing or controlling original information are the very ones that seem to have the biggest problems with this transition. What is most odd is that many of these organizations are “attention” businesses – trading on the fact that if you have someone’s attention you can redirect it – say towards some product, service or goods.

Also odd is that many of the winners are also attention companies – just trading on attention in different ways. These, mostly web companies, start with the premise that lots of information is available – but that is not what drives their popularity. It is that they treat attention as reciprocal. They use aggregated and filtered attention to deliver new value to users (page rank, friends suggestions and most popular are all link attention) – delivering better search and broader audience for creations and finds. Their algorithms are proxies for attention.

Rob Horning in a PopMatters article talks about the psychological and cultural importance of attention, linking recognition as critical for shaping attention habits. No man is an island, and relationships we foster between people and institutional validate our personal identities. The more that relationship allows interaction the richer the validation. Designing sites to focus on attention tracking and reciprocal attention, as most social media sites do, encourages a fundamental human behavior, while enlarging ones sphere of influence. It is no wonder these sites are so disruptive to traditional media organizations – the reciprocal relationships they engender confer both legitimacy and relevance to the user.

John Hagel also sees a strong psychological component to reciprocal relationships saying “we are unlikely to offer that attention unless something of compelling value is offered in return.”  That something else is reciprocal attention.

In the years since those posts were written organizations large and small are turning to social media to build dialogue with and between their customers. It’s a return to a direct relationship between the company and the customer. Deborah Shultz calls it weaving.

What’s most interesting to me is that traditional media while late to the show understanding this, and seem to be jumping on board.

The CBS purchase of Last.fm one example. The Washington Post recent story on Teen Shopping is another. A single story on teen shopping weaves a financial story together with personal stories that elaborate points while rewarding participants with respectful recognition. It’s a formula that’s bound to engage the social networks of profiled teens – encouraging online and physical reading – and dialogue that is part of every Post article. It’s good story telling – and relationship building.

A brand has to communicate – and that communication has to be reciprocal if it’s going to hold its own – in the attention economy.  

The Washington Post’s uses FaceBook API

The Washington Post has done it again – Face book announces an API – they announce an application using it (3 actually but 2 are just hinted at)

The first? A political compass! Answer a few questions and your political orientation is divined – nothing fancy here. But as soon as friend does you can start to map personal and political relationships. Possibly you don’t want to know – but that just means you’re not a political junkie. If you were you’d know the value.

To read more check out Rob Curley’s post on the launch.

One final note – As Rob says – this isn’t about getting headlines on other people pages it’s about branding to “Facebook members … interest in politics … that washingtonpost.com is the … site … for national politics”.

No word on the unannounced projects but it takes only a little imagination to see how news and social networks can make some pretty powerful and sticky applications.