City Paper staff writers do this a lot these days. We’ve learned how to do it. And there’s surely more to learn. Instead of holding stories, ideas, nuggets of information for the next week’s print paper, we run them in a blog. Sometimes these get feedback. Sometimes, they serve as a virtual first draft. It depends, but what’s certain is that we’re trying to harness the power of Web 2.0 before it has a chance to harness us.
Case in point is NBC’s decision to empower viewers of its Olympics coverage. Instead of embargoing its live coverage for 12 hours, it’s now letting out small bits throughout the day as a kind of teaser for that night’s broadcast. In the old pre-digital days, NBC had all the control. Now, with video as ubiquitous as words, NBC can’t afford to clamp down on every leak, as it tried to do with coverage of opening ceremonies. The clips fueled a planetary buzz resulting in viewer numbers that were astronomical — just over 34 million, the most ever for an Olympics outside the United States.
This is an example, as the always astute David Carr points out, of emerging technologies doing more good than harm to traditional media, if only traditional media would embrace them. He notes in today’s New York Times that the Philadelphia Enquirer has put the kibosh on reporters revealing on their blogs “the good stuff” (feature stories, enterprise stories, reviews, etc.), in an attempt, I assume, to drive readers to the paper product. It won’t work.
Emerging technologies that threaten to destroy the current paradigm can have precisely the opposite effect. Remember when VCRs and then DVDs were going to lay waste to the movie industry and ended up saving it instead? The Web leaks of entertainment that NBC bought and paid for served as a kind of trailer for the real thing.
Even to the eye of this reporter — to use a hack newspaper term — The Inquirer seems to be making a mistake. If the future of our business is online, then why set up a firewall, delaying the best content to protect a legacy product? And more adept reporters are beginning to realize that the Web is not just a way to broadcast news, it is a great way to assemble it as well.