Thursday, October 23, 2008

Next steps for Tribune

Tribune appears to be heading for the rocks again. Good friends of mine have, in the past (and some still do) invest a disproportionate amount of energy in keeping it going, and for their sake, I hope that it carries on in some form. The site itself is upbeat about prospective buyers and I hope the right one comes in soon.

I do think that this - along with the almost total absence of thinking about the key issues that the left needs to address - could provide a fantastic opportunity. There is a huge space open for a journal that could tap into the collective wisdom of the blogosphere and its various sisters.

Here's how I'd do it:
  • Commission articles in the way they always have been done (but commission fewer and pay for them at decent NUJ rates)
  • Post them early-ish on a well-marketed weblog
  • Urge registered users to comment – but specifically to add value to the article (not to ‘comment / sneer’ in the traditional weblog form). If you don't know how to do this, ask Mick Fealty of Slugger O'Toole who does it fantastically well.
  • Find a way to acknowledge genuine improvements - good comments
  • Formally publish the finished articles in a monthly / bi-monthly journal.
Getting weblogs to generate genuinely good content as Mick does – here and here – it is possible to get people to add content as opposed to comment. There are about two-dozen British left-wing bloggers that I wish I could get to pre-moderate my posts here before I hit 'submit' - I think that Tribune could involve these people to make really good collaborative articles in a wiki sort of way.

After all, as Chris says, opinions are like arseholes – everyone has one, and I don’t want to hear any of them. Authors could be encouraged to only permit content to survive undeleted.

So, the paper copy of Tribune should then publish the ‘improved’ articles in a printed from for wider coffee-table circulation and this only needs to happen once a month or every two months

Tribune’s existing subscriber base aren’t paying for the value of a weekly newspaper, so expect that enough of them can be retained at the current rate (or more?) to make it work in this way. I think that they would pay as much for very good quality monthly / bi-monthly – they’d lose very few existing subscribers and should be able to add on loads of new ones by promising quality and not quantity.

At the moment, Tribune is partly a job-creation scheme for printers and paper mills. It’s biggest costs could be quartered (or even divided by eight) if it were to go for quality and influence instead of publishing a weekly that doesn’t pay its authors in many cases.

In my model, you'd get fewer, better-written articles (because the authors would have been paid) that have been very effectively peer-reviewed and enhanced. They would be widely disseminated at the end-point, and would be worth reading. None of this should be read as a criticism of Tribune's current copy standards - but the burden of a regular deadline placed against a tiny editorial budget is a strain that - in these difficult times - few editors would handle as well as Chris McLaughlin has done.


cian said...

Isn't there a model for this kind of thing in the academic peer review system? While the peer review system is far from perfect (what is), the results tend to be better than any of the alternatives.

Innovations that one could try would include domain reviews (e.g. - getting the statistics reviewed by an expert, or an article on public databases reviewed by both a database expert, as well as a public policy person and possibly even a lawyer), reviews from the public which were filtered by the editor (to remove unhelpful comments, and to anonymise) before passing on to the author/website.

The main problem with this approach is that peer review is a slow process (it can be hurried along, but not routinely) - so you'd probably need different models for different types of content ranging from timely (responding to the news) to in depth (big policy ideas, analysis, that kind of thing).

As for the blog. Well one can always use blogs as a source for commisioning articles. Kind of like a sampler.

Paulie said...

I'm thinking more of a generalist periodical than an acadamic review Cian. I do think that a political writer could get people with a wide range of experience together and write a stonking article as long as they are all pointing in the same general direction.

I often see posts by others that I really like, but I notice points that they could have made better, or holes in their arguments that they could have plugged more effectively (and I'm sure others think the same about my posts...)

It also may be useful with different audiences. THere are lots of stuffy academic writers who bury good stuff in dull prose - a good writer could, I suspect, expose a unknown good thinker?

A sort of collaborative wiki article, perhaps?