The existential discussion often percolates when the challenges ahead seem overwhelming. Â In the face of such a daunting task there’s a natural tendency to question why we’re doing what we’re doing.
Fortunately, the Guardian has a mission much larger than itself and a funding mechanism that supports its goals in the form of the Scott Trust:
â€œThe Scott Trust was created in 1936 to safeguard the journalistic freedom and liberal values of the Guardian. The sole shareholder in Guardian Media Group, its core purpose is to preserve the financial and editorial independence of the Guardian in perpetuity, while its subsidiary aims are to champion its principles and to promote freedom of the press in the UK and abroad.â€
It doesnâ€™t take long to work out why weâ€™re here when you understand the Scott Trust.
The harder question isnâ€™t â€œwhatâ€™s the point?â€ Â The harder question is â€œwhat are we going to do about it?â€
In todayâ€™s connected world, media organizations need to measure success by the value of the actions they influence on and across the nodes in the network.
First, we must inspire people to do things, meaningful things, useful things. Â Without triggering a spark of some sort weâ€™re merely shouting into the abyss.
Then we must improve and benefit from the activity happening around us…the things we make, how people use them, what ideas people are sharing and contributing, and our ability to evaluate whatâ€™s happening.
The circle must complete itself and begin to bloom into its own self-reinforcing network of activity. Â That’s when the brand reaches hearts and minds, when journalism impacts whatâ€™s happening in the world and gives power to the voices and ideas that matter, that the business earns real, meaningful, sustainable income to support the organization into the future.
Conversely, the cost of failing to inspire people into action is worse than losing money…itâ€™s becoming irrelevant.
The beginning all over again
In his 2006 book â€œThe Wealth of Networksâ€, Yochai Benkler explained what kinds of changes weâ€™re experiencing right now living and working in a networked information economy and what they mean for individuals and society as a whole:
â€œA series of changes in the technologies, economic organization, and social practices of production in this environment has created new opportunities for how we make and exchange information, knowledge, and culture.
These changes have increased the role of nonmarket and nonproprietary production, both by individuals alone and by cooperative efforts in a wide range of loosely or tightly woven collaborations.
These newly emerging practices have seen remarkable success in areas as diverse as software development and investigative reporting, avant-garde video and multiplayer online games.
Together, they hint at the emergence of a new information environment, one in which individuals are free to take a more active role than was possible in the industrial information economy of the twentieth century.
This new freedom holds great practical promise: as a dimension of individual freedom; as a platform for better democratic participation; as a medium to foster a more critical and self-reflective culture; and, in an increasingly information dependent global economy, as a mechanism to achieve improvements in human development everywhere.â€
Mark Zuckerberg made a slightly more concise but similarly inspiring comment in his interview at Web 2.0 Summit this year that speaks volumes about why journalists and everyone in the business of media should be very optimistic about the future.
There was a giant map on stage that was used as the symbolic backdrop for the whole dialog at the event. Â The intent of the map was to show how the various players in the market were occupying and competing in different ways…it was titled “Points of Control: The Battle for the Network Economy“.
Mark walked on stage, sat in the interview chair, looked behind him and said:
â€œYour map is wrong. Â I think that the biggest part of the map has got to be the uncharted territory. Right?
One of the best things about the technology industry is that itâ€™s not zero sum. This thing makes it seem like itâ€™s zero sum. Right? In order to take territory you have to be taking territory from someone else. But I think one of the best things is, weâ€™re building real value in the world, not just taking value from other companies.â€
This series is an attempt to assemble some ideas I’ve been exploring for a while. Â Most of it is new, and some of it is from previous blog posts and recent-ish presentations. I’ve split the document up into a series of posts on the blog here, but it can also be downloaded in full as a PDF or viewed as a sort of ebook via Scribd: