The Cyberbrains

Research and contemplation in new media

‘Features’ of the future

It’s hard to believe it’s been a week since Lincoln Millstein made his bold predictions about the fate of newspaper lifestyle pages. Honestly, I should have commented on it earlier, hans-mug.jpgbut I’ve been wrapped up in other things, and I’ve been waiting for my compatriots with more visible platforms to lead the charge. In the last week, I haven’t seen anything – not from Romenesko, not from Gillmor, not from Dube – and it awoke me from my end-of-semester slumber.

(BTW, if you have commented on this, and I’m just missing your link, let me know.)

Clyde’s response today also helped me see the confusion that exists surrounding what citizen journalism means for mainstream journalism. If you don’t want to read the Forbes story, here’s a summary. Millstein, the former features editor at the Boston Globe, told editors gathered at the Newspaper Association of America annual conference he envisions a day when newspaper features sections are entirely reader-generated.

“You don’t need professional journalists to put out a food section, in my opinion,” he said. “I had a hundred journalists reporting to me. I don’t believe that model works, I don’t believe it needs to work. I believe the user is actually better served by having user-generated, high-quality content in all those ‘back of the book’ sections.”

While I should be shouting for joy that someone of his stature (or at least former stature) is taking user-generated content seriously, I see two fundamental flaws in his thinking.

1) Readers don’t necessarily want to be journalists. This is a refrain Steve Yelvington so often eloquently repeats, and we’ve seen it over and over again in our research. Yes, they want the opportunity to share a Bumbleberry Pie recipe or two, but no, they don’t want to take over an entire section. The promise of user-generated content in newspapers is NOT free labor. It’s interaction and forging stronger connections.

2) What role does the journalist play? I can’t be certain from Millstein’s comments that he isn’t advocating relinquishing all control to the fashion mavens at the local A & P store. I doubt he is, but what forward thinking new media managers need to do before proposing something as revolutionary as this is define what role paid staffers will play. Our research has also shown time and time again that readers need a guide, especially in a confusing online megaverse. The smart features section of the future will have a stern editor at the helm, setting the course and encouraging readers to jump on the ship.

May 13, 2007 - Posted by | Hans Meyer

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