Last month marked the eighth anniversary of your Regret the Error blog. When you launched the platform, did you expect or hope it would lead to a book deal, a gig at Poynter and other career opportunities?
That was my general aspiration. In 2004 I was a freelance journalist in Montreal writing pretty much exclusively for Canadian magazines and some newspapers.
I wanted something to build on my own but I also wanted something that could raise my profile and that would hopefully be of value. The idea that it could turn into a book, different columns, doing workshops and a position at Poynter never crossed my mind.
Do you think that accuracy is the biggest threat to journalism today? Some would point to business model problems, but you have chosen to focus on ethical ones.
The broken business model of news is the result of an even larger shift, which is the splitting of audiences and the inability for any media property to gather a massive captive audience.
Today the question is, how do you deal with that? Developing a really trusted and connected relationship with your community is a huge weight to counter that shift. Yes, accuracy comes into it, being accountable for your mistakes comes into it, but the biggest thing is showing a human face.
If you don’t engage in a genuine and human way with your audience, which does mean being accountable and does mean acknowledging the things you get wrong, you can’t build a strong connection. It’s just a fake aura of perfection. And that’s what we had for a very long time, when news organizations could operate that way and get away with it.
Has the web made accuracy more or less of a problem in journalism?
It’s a double-edged sword. The internet is the greatest disseminator of information and bullshit we’ve ever seen, but it’s also the best way to network fact checking.
The new reality is that you have to do a much better job at figuring out what the facts are and spreading them.
By and large, news organizations are not as good at spreading the facts as they should be and the folks who come up with the misinformation and the hoaxes are much better at appealing to things like emotion, values and desires.
Spundge isn’t the first online newsroom platform for content creators. What specific needs were you looking to fill with this tool?
Everybody needs a system for finding things that are interesting and that relate to what they do for their job, for collecting those things, for sharing them with the relevant people, and for putting that information into action.
The problem is that there’s a different tool for each part of the process and all those tools lock the knowledge away. They’re about keeping it there just for you. So we saw an opportunity to make that knowledge gathering a lot easier and to make it collaborative.
And aside from putting it all together into an integrative workflow, we should be helping people move towards the act of publishing in some way. That means they should be able to keep private what needs to be private but they should be able to easily take that knowledge and get it out there, whether it’s an email newsletter or a blog post.
You’re currently working with news organizations but I know you’re looking to get Spundge into the hands of brands and content marketers as well. Have you seen different needs from those two markets?
What I’ve seen is that they have their own areas of expertise but that they struggle in other areas. Take the example of a brand that’s getting into publishing. Where they often struggle is the aspect of where their content comes from, how to source it, how to decide what’s right and create good quality content, rather than just trying to sell products.
When it comes to newsrooms, they’re very good at gathering and packaging information, but where they’ve often been struggling is that they have all these internal systems that don’t talk to each other.
Journalists by nature tend to be very protective of the information they gather. The idea of being collaborative and of seeing the added value of collaboration is a big thing that journalists need to open up to more.
You’ve been involved with other journalism startups over the years. Do you think journalists can learn something from Silicon Valley?
With the broken business model and with a sea change in what’s going on with audiences, we need people to think of new ways of building news from the ground up.
That’s why you are starting to see entrepreneurialism journalism programs in universities. There’s recognition in the industry that we need people to really think about these challenges and launch new things.
The other piece, frankly, is that this is a once-in-a-century moment in media, and if you have the skills and you have ideas, this is the absolutely right time to try and put those things into action. I can’t think of another time when I’d rather be involved in news and information in some way.