The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The future of journalism, in 3 sentences

The dress (AP Photo/PA. Joe Giddens)

Most of official Washington probably hasn't heard of Jason Goldman. But, on Tuesday morning President Obama named Goldman, who has been involved with the creation of Twitter and Medium among other things, the first-ever White House Chief Digital Officer. Goldman took to Medium to write about his new role in a piece titled "The Internet, the White House, and You (and Me)." In it, he writes the following lines:

Broadcasting isn’t the same as connecting. Broadcasting can create awareness. But connecting people can create engagement and change.

That is a beautifully brief encapsulation of where I think journalism -- and, as Goldman argues, the entire Internet -- is headed.

Defining success on the web seems to me to be undergoing a fundamental change.  For the last five years or so, the tools to measure metrics like page views and unique users have become increasingly complex and, generally, fabulous.  We can tell how many people are reading a given story at any second and track when certain stories are trending upwards (or downwards) within moments of the boom (or bust) happening.  That has led to an industry-wide emphasis-bordering-on-obsession with page views as THE metric by which success should be judged. The numbers are addictive; it's the same reason that during political campaigns us junkies obsess over every morsel of polling data. We just can't get enough. (Confession: I have been as guilty as anyone else in the poring over page views and polling numbers.)

But, in recent months (probably, in truth years, but we in journalism tend to be a little behind), the operating principle has begun to change. No longer are page views king. In their place -- or moving into their place -- is the idea of "time on site", a way to measure how long people, um, stay on any article or, say, the Washington Post site.

That change is exactly what Goldman is talking about. Broadcasting -- simply pushing massive amounts of information out to people -- has its uses, most notably getting a story, your brand (gag) or whatever else attention. But, connectedness is the future -- and has almost limitless potential both for journalism and the digital world more broadly.

Broadcasting is passive; we push information to users based on what we think they want. (It's an educated guess based on the various pieces of information people provide to any site.) Connecting is active; you play a part in making whatever it is that you want to make. You shape the very basis of what the "thing" is; you inherently have some level of ownership in it.

Again, Goldman:

One big reason Twitter was so successful is that it asked a really simple question — “What are you doing?” and invited people to answer in 140 characters or less — and it wasn’t limited in how people answered. The people using the platform defined the connections. Not just in terms of whom to follow, but what it meant to participate at all.

Yup.  And, while Goldman is writing about the business and political world, that truth is no less, well, true about journalism.  I've spent much of the past few years working to not only build an online community around the Fix by not only including you all in our conversations but also trying to create content day in and day out that you want to share with your friends.  Each time you share a piece of content or submit an idea for a Fix contest, you build the connective tissue of what we do.  That connective tissue is, increasingly, the central tenet of our collective digital future. We as journalists provide the gathering place and maybe a spot to start the conversation. You take it, mold it and then (hopefully) share it.

In short, digital journalism is moving from a broadcasting model to a connecting one. Do yourself a favor and read Goldman's entire piece; it's a window into where politics, the people who cover it and the broader web is headed.