Chaos theoria adhiberetur: Vehuntur Ursus

“Primus homo per parietem semper est cruentatus … semper”

The above is a rough translation of the subject header on a congratulatory email I received on December 19, 2012 from a successful, highly respected trial lawyer. I think most everyone reading this recalls the events of that day. For the lawyer that wrote me, making US legal history prevailing in the first decision of its kind in the Nation was meaningful. The decision under the US Speech Act even made the news on several new media outlets in two countries along with a Canadian newspaper but nary was heard any word from the local main stream media.

But this trial lawyer was talking about more than just my court victory because the guy is a consummate thinker/technology visionary. By harnessing the power of this medium called the internet I’ve lost track of how many high achieving high quality individuals I’ve met, first on the Yahoo Fiance Boards and later through my 5 years plus doing Slabbed.  Occasionally, we’re even blessed such people stop in with us and comment, sharing their rich life experiences with the community.  There is a magic here that is undeniable, in large part due to a diverse community of sincere commenters that are mostly what Sly termed “everyday people” back in the day.  Somehow, in today’s day and age when media outlets are branded as conservative or liberal, Slabbed manages to attract (and occasionally piss off) both demographics but since we’re equal opportunity muckrakers no one seems to hold it against us for long.

I mention all this because my post yesterday discussing attribution got a response from Gordon Russell.  We agreed that it was worth sharing since some of ya’ll may make like The boy named Sue and come away with a different point of view since we were hard on NOLA Media Group yesterday.  It also gives me a chance to remind everyone commenting here that people are paying attention and by people I mean the high end demographic that forms the majority of the readership, along with various and sundry Goatherders.  As I told Nowdy back in 2007 the key to difference making wasn’t the quantity of readers, rather their quality. Yesterday’s email chat with Gordon, in light of a few links that were left on the post I did make it a good time to tackle the general subject of the secular change occurring in the media industry, which has been an occasional topic here since since the advent of the “Sometimes Picayune”.

Yesterday Steve and Whitmergate nailed it in comments and understood the connection I was making involving what most people would consider obscure applied mathematics. Let’s start with ‘Gate:

Power, sex, politics, money, corruption, death … fractals all– complex, universal and chaotic

And what do fractals have to do with Chaos Theory? The link ‘Gate left explains it far better than Wiki:

Chaos is the science of surprises, of the nonlinear and the unpredictable. It teaches us to expect the unexpected. While most traditional science deals with supposedly predictable phenomena like gravity, electricity, or chemical reactions, Chaos Theory deals with nonlinear things that are effectively impossible to predict or control, like turbulence, weather, the stock market, our brain states, and so on. These phenomena are often described by fractal mathematics, which captures the infinite complexity of nature. Many natural objects exhibit fractal properties, including landscapes, clouds, trees, organs, rivers etc, and many of the systems in which we live exhibit complex, chaotic behavior. Recognizing the chaotic, fractal nature of our world can give us new insight, power, and wisdom. For example, by understanding the complex, chaotic dynamics of the atmosphere, a balloon pilot can “steer” a balloon to a desired location. By understanding that our ecosystems, our social systems, and our economic systems are interconnected, we can hope to avoid actions which may end up being detrimental to our long-term well-being.

Do these concepts apply to Slabbed? How about other blogs and forums? Do they apply to the media as a whole? Absolutely. In fact during our days covering the post Katrina wind-water insurance litigation we applied those and other concepts to organizations like insurance companies, which in turn attracted a group of high quality nationally known trial lawyers along with the creme of the local bar both here on the coast and Louisiana to this blog. There is a method to the madness publishing Slabbed. So with all this in mind here is the story behind the story:

NOLA Media Group sat on the girlfriends death for almost a week and rolled it out only after I posted on the topic and the St Charles Parish Sheriff issued a new press release in response to that post.

When I give a behind the scenes tip I generally do not expect a hat tip or recognition. In this case, I not only broke this story but also first reported the poor woman’s death.

To the extent most mornings the early stories on NOLA.com’s carousel end with, “as reported by local TV station” I do not think I am asking too much.

I changed Slabbed’s creative commons license to ban commercial use of my work without prior permission and it is now displayed on the right sidebar.

Actually I was asking too much according to Gordon. He acknowledged that he got his first lead from me and access to sourcing. He maintained my sourcing did not pan out but the general tip I gave did allow for the cultivation of other, independent sources. He indicated that it was not the Slabbed’s scoop connecting Ms Keim to the Morel investigation but rather NOLA Media Group’s behind the scenes snooping that lead to the St Charles Sheriff issuing a new press release on Danelle Keim’s untimely death.  And as far as Slabbed being there first with the most twice in this saga, Gordon maintained that is meaningless absent other circumstances that I won’t go into here for the sake of brevity.  To the extent I’m honored someone the caliber of Gordon Russell would engage me, there was no such thing as a “wrong answer” because he was telling it like is according to the Newhouse bible.

But I have also been collecting data on this general topic of how the main stream media views us newbies for almost 2 years now and “the fractal” is far more complex from my point of view.  I’ll add the perceived lack of respect is in reality a major compliment as Gordon made it clear this one man band with a donate button and one gratis banner ad is considered a “competitor” to the House that Eliza Jane built. In an area steeped in history and tradition the irony that she built the Times Picayune and ran it from Bay St Louis, Mississippi is not lost on me.  To the extent she was a journalistic innovator in her time I think she would approve of Slabbed.

Today the Newhouse family owns the companies that make up the NOLA Media Group/Times Picayune and their family patriarch S. I. Newhouse Sr. was no slouch himself in the media innovation department. Editorially Slabbed took a wait and see approach to the changes that resulted in the Sometimes Picayune because I noticed three things:

  1. Their testing ground at their Ann Arbor outlet had been operational for a year so I knew the gang in New York had empirical financial data they no doubt used in the decision making.
  2. I was told by multiple sources with knowledge of the operations at Advance Publications that Steve Newhouse had been consulting with the best business consultants/internet theorists money could buy.
  3. This in turn meant they were not flying blind in what they were doing.

I understood that people did not like losing their daily paper but I steered clear of 99% of the yang yang as most of that was fueled by media competitors angling for market share or newly disenfranchised uptown Boston Clubbers who no longer had the publisher’s ear.  I also understand old school newspaper people are resistant to the changes as that is human nature so there was plenty of attrition to go with the structural changes being implemented. Yesterday Steve gave us a peek at the ‘internet theory’ I think the Newhouse gang is hanging their hats on and it is found at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University:

Four years after the 2008 financial crisis, traditional news organizations continue to see their newsrooms shrink or close. Those that survive remain mired in the innovator’s dilemma: A false choice between today’s revenues and tomorrow’s digital promise. The problem is a profound one: A study in March by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism showed that newspapers have been, on average, losing print advertising dollars at seven times the rate they have been growing digital ad revenue.

Journalism institutions play a vital role in the democratic process and we are rooting for their survival. But only the organizations themselves can make the changes required to adapt to these new realities. This search for new business models remains elusive for most. Executives interviewed in that Pew report confirmed that closing the revenue gap remains a struggle. “There might be a 90 percent chance you’ll accelerate the decline if you gamble and a 10 percent chance you might find the new model,” one executive explained in the report. “No one is willing to take that chance.”

But pursue it they must, or their organizations will be deemed irrelevant by news consumers. New entrants are already leaving their mark on journalism—stealing audiences and revenues away from legacy organizations.

and with that set up what is Disruption Theory. The gang at Harvard is kind enough to explain:

Disruption theory argues that a consistent pattern repeats itself from industry to industry. New entrants to a field establish a foothold at the low end and move up the value network—eating away at the customer base of incumbents—by using a scalable advantage and typically entering the market with a lower-margin profit formula.

And like Chaos Theory this has applications for the news biz:

In the news business, newcomers are doing the same thing: delivering a product that is faster and more personalized than that provided by the bigger, more established news organizations. The newcomers aren’t burdened by the expensive overheads of legacy organizations that are a function of life in the old world. Instead, they’ve invested in only those resources critical to survival in the new world. All the while, they have created new market demand by engaging new audiences.

Because new-market disruptors like The Huffington Post and BuzzFeed initially attract those who aren’t traditional consumers of a daily newspaper or evening newscast, incumbent organizations feel little pain or threat. The incumbents stay the course on content, competing along the traditional definition of “quality.” Once established at the market’s low end, the disruptors—by producing low-cost, personalized and, increasingly, original content—move into the space previously held by the incumbents.

It is not until the disruption is in its final stages that it truly erodes the position of the incumbents.

The entire 3 part series is well worth the read but I thought this snippet was key:

As managers at media organizations consider instituting changes to their business model—perhaps by charging for content that they previously freely provided online—they should ask whether their organization is doing such an outstanding job of satisfying consumers’ needs that consumers will pay for their content. This is particularly the case if you’re in a commoditized space where other organizations are providing very similar content for free. In addition, it’s critical to avoid falling into the trap of believing that you can charge for content just because it costs money to produce.

Instead, the content must be so compelling that users will pay for it. This requires targeting the right jobs.

So content matters, in fact it is vital. I did not go to an Ivy League school and everything I know about the intersection of the internet and media is self taught via the school of hard knocks. I apply those concepts here. Stand up Slabbed Nation and take a bow:

The wealth of information available almost instantaneously has lowered the value of the general interest news story such that it’s often less than the cost of production. General interest and breaking news reporting comprised of answering the “who, what, when and where” has become commoditized. It cannot create enough value to sustain a news organization in the long term.

The value for news organizations now increasingly lies in providing context and verification—reporting the “how, why and what it means”—and facilitating communities around that news and information.

Those of you that read Slabbed know I value the comments to a well written news story as much as the story itself. The one left on November 3, 2012 on the Nieman Report nails it:

I liked the article because in the past decade I’m constantly disconnecting from newspapers for the reasons you present. Nevertheless I think that is missing a link: content quality.

We have been watching not only on newspapers, but also on television an over simplification about what is being told. About the script. Journalist don’t go deeper on the investigation, don’t go deeper on the information assessment, on the numbers (many times we realize that the figures that are presented by the journalist have flaws because it did not made it’s home work), how to tell a story. We are watching journalists acting like recording machines. There is no reasoning about the facts. Without quality content there will be no engagement. Readers will not learn anything new.

I saw NOLA.com’s restructuring  all over the Nieman piece such as community building by reporters now engaging their readers like a blogger. We see almost daily morning recaps of the evening TeeVee news on the redesigned front page, which is now very much blog-like. Those Tee Vee news recaps are sometimes followed by original reporting by NOLA if the previous work can be duplicated via their own efforts.  There is also a perceptible increased reliance on the AP to close the content gap but AP wire stories are nothing new.  What is new are the myriad of ways a news consumer such as myself can get to that AP reporting with a simple smartphone but that is another post. Content is key and choosing the right content is vital IMHO.  To illustrate that which I speak I’ll use a Slabbed favorite, the whoring piece of human excrement that is Plaquemines Parish Prez Billy Nungesser.

What does the local news consumer want to know about Nungesser?  Would they appreciate knowing the double dealing between Nungesser and his Parish Attorney Stephen Braud with a bit of Magnum’s “Of counsel” Eric O’Bell sprinkled on top?  That would be my guess.  At Fox 8 the answer was No as sources indicate that Lee Zurik got all that information I received recently with the tips he received on Jiff Hingle and he did nothing with it. That said Tom Benson’s Channel 8 does want people to know is that Billy is working hard to lose the extra lard.  Billy is a great interview which is why the local TeeVee stations fawn all over him.  IMHO such journalism may be perceived as good for the bottom line but it is not in the public interest.

And the differences of opinion about what is worth highlighting from other news outlets aka competitors is revealing. For example, around 8am Friday I ran a post revealing a major JEDCO source of Slabbed’s was amused at Lee Zurik taking on Lucien Gunter for charging drinks to the taxpayers and that during his time at JEDCO he ate lunch with Elton LaGasse and John Young <gasp>!  My attorney Bobby Truitt recently ate lunch with Aaron Broussard so yes, sometimes unlikely people do break bread together.  That said is there anything unusual about the guy running JEDCO cuddled up with Jefferson Parish politicos, even corrupt ones like LaGasse since it is part of the job?  Opinions vary as Manuel Torres over at NOLA.com perceived enough news value in Zurik’s story to include it in his regular Parish links column which ran at 12:30pm the same day. By the same token I’ve noticed all manner of cross promoting between Benson’s Fox 8 and the NOLA.com folks starting with the sports beat, all this after Benson’s publicity stunt offering to buy the Times Picayune.

None of this means anything per se but it is illustrative of the chaotic environment that the media operates.  One day competitors are cutting deals and creating alliances only to stab each other in the back at a later date and time. On its most basic level this fierce level of competition is fueled by a decreasing marketplace for older media technologies and a digital marketplace that is not growing fast enough to fill the void. Tee Vee news is not immune to this trend. But for all the gyrations wrought by a declining marketplace has the content purveyed by the traditional media improved? I don’t think so but I see encouraging signs in unlikely places. More on that later.

I’d like to invite everyone think like a newspaper guy and how they would view websites that take on harder topics, such as Slabbed and our coverage of the totality of the corrupt reign of Goatherdian terror that was Aaron Broussard or the story behind the battle at the Wisner Foundation Jason at AZ is detailing because I doubt either topic will ever be highlighted by the major media outlets, even major advancements of stories they broke and such is not accidental.  Yes main stream media guys can and will spout chapter and verse why the work does not measure up and sound credible in the process but I don’t buy it based upon my observations, some of which I just detailed.

The bottom line is we are small and nimble and can deploy a fact based story to publication far quicker than our fellow journalists at established outlets.  A couple of years ago I had it out via email with a local journalist and in reading what the guy said, I could see why he wanted to strangle me at times.  He would work a lead for weeks only to find me at the finish line waiting for him.  Recently I tripped over someone in the local media on DMR and in what I think is an encouraging sign we communicated and the problem was resolved.  It is not my goal to make life harder for a journalist plying their trade with this project because that is not why I do this project.

This brings me to DMR because the Sun Herald is experiencing a renaissance of sorts.  They are doing a great job with a complex topic. We are not collaborating on this topic per se but there is a defacto hammer and anvil thing going between their coverage and my running commentary on same that is effective and producing positive change and that is why I’m in the game.  I’ll add it is clearly the type of journalism their readers want. Meantime at the Advance Publications outlet in Pascagoula, The Mississippi Press, which is literally located in the epicenter of the aorta of corruption in Jackson County and you can barely hear the crickets chirping there these days about the doings at DMR. The autonomous publisher thing the Newhouse family practiced for decades as a matter of corporate policy is a double edged sword as I not only note their relative silence today, but also the wonderful promotion of Scott Walker’s political fundraisers in days of yore, such promotion no doubt delighting the Walker family to no end back in the day but which now hangs over them like the Sword of Damocles.

I used the term renaissance because not long before the DMR Scandal broke the Sun Herald had a golden opportunity to participate in high quality investigative journalism in the Bay Tech Building Scandal and passed. It is a shame in one respect because they could have cut their teeth on a phony baloney appraisal scam perpetrated on the taxpayers by the Bay Waveland School Board before they cut their teeth on a phony baloney appraisal scam perpetrated on the taxpayers by Bill Walker’s DMR.  I understand the authorities are looking at both.

This brings me to a larger point because several years ago I would frequent the Jackson Free Press, an alternative media site here in Mississippi. I was turned off because the founder/ publisher seems to spend the majority of her time bitching about other media outlets not carrying the stories she thought important, mainly the Clarion Ledger. The same was true at the Gulf Coast News at a different point in time save for the fact the target of the publisher’s ire was the Sun Herald. I understand the frustration though I think it is misplaced because you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink.  My experience has been if the story is that good it will not be ignored, at least by the right people anyhow. While corporate policy at Advance Publications does not recognize the concept of being there first with the most, the cyber gods do and that is what drives quality traffic and this brings me to the last two points I want to make today so lets circle back to the Fractal Foundation and Chaos Theory:

  • Feedback: Systems often become chaotic when there is feedback present. A good example is the behavior of the stock market. As the value of a stock rises or falls, people are inclined to buy or sell that stock. This in turn further affects the price of the stock, causing it to rise or fall chaotically.

  • Fractals: A fractal is a never-ending pattern. Fractals are infinitely complex patterns that are that are self-similar across different scales. They are created by repeating a simple process over and over in an ongoing feedback loop. Driven by recursion, fractals are images of dynamic systems – the pictures of Chaos. Geometrically, they exist in between our familiar dimensions. Fractal patterns are extremely familiar, since nature is full of fractals. For instance: trees, rivers, coastlines, mountains, clouds, seashells, hurricanes, etc.

Cognitive Bias is a never ending pattern as well so we gotta kick things up a notch and marry the concept of Cognitive Bias with Chaotic feedback:

Feedback loop dominance is a key concept to understand structural driving forces of system behavior. In this paper, we propose two kinds of shifts in dominant feedback loops: continuous shifts (CS) and discrete shifts (DS). With the help of questionnaires, we verified three hypotheses regarding cognitive biases in perceiving the shifts in dominant feedback loops: 1) failure in perceiving continuous shifts, 2) tendency of decision making based on discrete shifts, and 3) different perception on the dominant feedback loops between level variables and rate variables. We discussed the implication of these cognitive biases on time delay and timing strategy in decision-making processes.

This brings us back to the google search I linked above for Danelle Keim because there is a feedback loop at play, driven in part by some of the highfalutin concepts I’ve rolled out in this post. First I’d invite people to run their own searches and compare and contrast the following screen capture:

Google search screen capture

And that feedback loop? Two newspapers in the loop but only one newspaper story that is not an obit shows on Google page 1, at least on my screen:

Woman found dead over weekend allegedly connected to FBI investigation of cases handled by former D.A. ~ St Charles Herald Guide

And that other news outlet showing on google? Well they were there first with the most. Twice. 😉

I’m flattered to be considered a competitor to all you media folks that read this blog and despite the fact I’m in the game for a different reason than most a competitor I shall be. Based on what Gordon told me, Manuel Torres linking Slabbed (kinda) on February 8 was gratis and to that extent that is true I appreciate that Manuel made nice. McClatchy’s policy is a bit different and I appreciate the fact they are now throwing hat tips in a less restrictive manner. The fact is for the new media, the old guys on the block will not make it easy and that’s fine because we shouldn’t expect that.  And as we evolve, Slabbed will be compelled to adapt a more business like model because legal representation that comes with reporting the hard stories that scare most traditional media outlets off is not free. Speaking of lawyers, two more just hired in to the fabled Slabbed legal team but that is the topic for another post.

Thus I conclude the long promised, State of the Slabb post. You for profit folks are free to link me but my new creative commons license means there will be more formal, written understandings. You don’t have to link me at all though and I’m fine with that too because all the right people visit daily here anyway. And by all means to you folks at media outlets like WVUE Fox 8, please keep pumping corrupt politicians like Nunny and you too will learn first hand about late stage Disruption Theory.

Me, in a day and age when most folks in the media business face the future with a sense of foreboding……

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IbRmaIzGTOM

6 thoughts on “Chaos theoria adhiberetur: Vehuntur Ursus”

    1. Or alternatively stated … I am ‘fractaled’ by your illumination of the chaotic state of the deep seeded tensions that exist and continue to persist between new media and MSM …

  1. In short isn’t the Disruption-Chaos principles grouped together just the glorified Free Enterprise system with many fast,little fish ( piranha)slowly nibbling away at the big,slower( business expenses) fish.

    A good example is Amazon( a little fish in electronics but with no physical presence or sales force) eating away at Best Buy which had gotten fat from previously eating several electronic outlets.

    I’ve always thought the lack of hattips to Slabbed was to intentionally not acknowledge there were any small media fish around the big media for their reading/viewing base to catch onto.

    I think of Slabbed as a large piranha like this:

    http://youtu.be/GCS3EfE7UCs

    1. You will find Chaos Theory at work in schools of swinning bait fish as well as the predatory fish that feed upon them.

      I am stunned at the positive response to this post from some of my friends in the media, a couple of whom sent fan mail. It seems we intuitively have stumbled onto something here.

      http://www.americanpressinstitute.org/Research/Newspaper-Next.aspx

      It is a bit dated but the lessons have not changed. I’ve seen some of the strategies employed at NOLA and the Clarion Ledger, neither successfully.

      The key is not the change itself but organizationally embracing the change which is not easy. I see lots of wisdom in both the Nieman Foundation and the API but translating it into new business models is not easy.

      For the new Newhouse model to work there can be no backsliding into an organization that downsized to putting out a three day a week paper. IMHO that is their greatest risk.

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