Diverging media: The path of Wikileaks data dumps or the Town Square

In their efforts to become more relevant, vibrant and profitable, media are diverging, with larger newspaper companies investing to accommodate high-profile leaks, and smaller news organizations fighting to reinvent themselves at a community level.

Consider two recent news items recently. One relates to innovations major media are rushing to enact to accommodate WikiLeak-like leaks of massive amounts of data.

The second comes in the form of a memo from new Philadelphia Daily News editor Larry Platt, whose job is to lead a proud and struggling newspaper that operates as its city’s second source of news, behind the Philadelphia Inquirer.

In an article for Yahoo! News, Michael Calderone writes about the effort on the part of the mega news media organizations to bring online new technology systems designed to handle the largest dumps of information you could imagine. These systems will be designed to handle massive leaks with the ease of a plug-in flash drive. Al Jazeera calls this system its “Transparency Unit,” Calderone wrote. New York Times editor Bill Keller acknowledged in the same article that his paper is pursuing a similar system. Other news organizations around the world are not likely to be left behind.

"It would be surprising if other large news organizations are not already at work on their own encrypted WikiLeaks-style portals," according to Raffi Khatchadourian, who has covered WikiLeaks for New Yorker. "The New York Times and Guardian, for instance, have every incentive to follow in Al Jazeera's footsteps and give people a way to submit sensitive material directly to them rather than through an intermediary, such as WikiLeaks."

Compare this to Platt’s missive, where he tries to re-energize and refocus his staff. He too speaks of innovation, but his is at the grass-roots, gut level of his newspaper. His vision is for the newspaper to become the “Town Square” of Philly.

 “The times demand that, together, we reinvent ourselves,” he wrote. “We’re going to be a laboratory of innovation and experimentation.”

“I find it liberating that we’re not Philadelphia’s paper of record. If you don’t have to cover everything, you can actually cover anything. You can let your passion guide you. In other words, we are free to focus on giving our readers what they can’t get anywhere else, which is a service to them — while setting us apart from the pack.”

We are “no longer in the newspaper business; we are, instead, in the Town Square business,” he wrote. “We provide the last bastion of community in an ever-fractured world, and we touch the members of our community in myriad ways: via print, the web, apps, events, and other media outlets. What we do – what you do — is vital.”

WikiLeaks-like data leaks and the massive amounts of information they encompass are likely to become more common, but only the largest of media will be able to accommodate them.

A significant portion of the media are going the Town Square route.

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