Last week, I was working on a new set of projects with a friend of mine, François Dufour, the publisher of the very successful daily newspapers for kids in France: Le Petit Quotidien, Mon Quotidien and L'Actu. Francois has also been one of the French professionals that has led the brainstorming on how to help French daily newspapers to survive. An exercise initiated by the French president a few months ago (Les États généraux de la presse écrite). We were talking about it, having some heated (but friendly) conversation on the future of media and the role of journalists versus amateurs, when suddenly he asked me: "But, Jeff what would be your ideal newspaper ? " Here was, in a few words, my answer.
First, it would not be a print newspaper. Not because I have something against print newspapers, but because it could not technically do the job. I need to be able to search my newspaper. I need to save the content I like. I need to send to my friends the content that I think in which they can be interested. I want to react/contribute to articles when I have something to say about them whatever is the reason. Etc.
Second, it would not be a single source, because there is no one source in this world than can fulfill and aggregate the needs that I have in terms of news and information. Before, the constraint of time and, most importantly, of money forced me to reduce my number of sources to a national newspaper and a set of specialized magazines and newsletters. Now, with the internet, I have access to an unlimited number of sources for free. But this is at the same time both a great and painful experience. How do I filter all of this accessible news and information? And it's where the conversation started to be interesting... and surprising for François.
Third, the content would not be filtered and written ONLY by journalists. I could see in François' eyes that I had just touched a very sensitive point. "You're not going to tell me that you give the same importance to an article written by a professional journalist than a post by a blogger?" First, I reminded him, that in the French local newspapers, 70 to 80% of the content is written by amateurs called "local correspondents" and for at least more than forty years. Then, I explained the following.
As opposed to what still happens in traditional media today, I want my sources to be filtered by four types of people :
1- Journalists. No need to explain why.
2- Experts in the fields in which I am interested. Because, I think that it is more and more difficult for a journalist to have the sufficient knowledge to be a better informer than an expert on a subject that I also know well. Then, I feel enough educated to avoid the middle man.
3- People with the same centers of interest than mine. Because, they help me to access to information that I did not even know existed. Because they share their experiences, observations and thinking. A process that saves me time, opens my mind to new horizons, makes me smarter (I hope), helps me to make decisions, etc. For example, do I need a journalist to tell me where is the best school in town for my daughter? Do I need a professional writer to tell me where is the best Chinese restaurant in Chelsea or if the last Indiana Jones movie is good or not?
4- Friends. Because, they know whom I am, what I like, where I live, etc. and are more likely to send me content that I want to read. It is very rare when I don't read an article, a post, a video, a comment that has been sent to me by a friend. And you?
In addition to these human filters, I also like algorithms to direct me to more content like: "people who read this article also read this article" or related content, etc.
In the same way that I need more than the journalists to filter my content, I also need more than the journalists to produce it. Once again, experts and people, with the same interests than mine, are better at giving me the right information. This is not theory, this is what happens in my everyday life. I am not saying that I don't trust journalists; I do think that they are necessary. I am just saying that I don't find the content that they provide always the best content. And, I am also saying that I need more than what they provide.
Each day, I am trying to build and improve my ideal newspaper. It is on my computer and on my iphone. It is made of hundred of sources pro and "amateurs". It goes through the filter of the people I trust on Twitter, through my friends on FaceBook, the anonymous on Digg... My ideal newspaper can't be a print one. It has to be digital and it has to be "crowdfiltered" and "crowdproduced" (definitely including journalists). The "old package", even free, just cannot compete for my needs and for the ones of more and more digital grown ups.
Update - I forgot to mention the "crowdfiltering" service of Business Week: Business Exchange. Worth experimenting. I really like the idea. Tell me if you like it.
(Disclosure: I am part of the team that invented the French newspapers for kids. I was also involved in the EGDPE)