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Glass, A New Digital Site, To Obsess On TV And Video


Now let's turn to a world that's almost frighteningly free, the Internet, which has shaken up the media world in recent years. The media have been through some dramatic changes as they shift to digital and online platforms. NPR's David Folkenflik now introduces us to a new tech news site that may offer hints about the ways reporters will be working in the future.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Zach Seward is a senior editor at Quartz, an all-digital publication focusing on the global economy. Fifty-four staffers work at Quartz, an offshoot of The Atlantic magazine. Reporters there don't have beats. They have obsessions.

ZACH SEWARD: We try to take that word pretty seriously and assign reporters to these obsessions who are themselves obsessed with a topic.

FOLKENFLIK: Quartz boasts five million monthly distinct digital readers, most of them the well educated and well paid kind that draw upscale advertisers. Now Quartz and Seward are following his own obsession to launch a small sister site, Glass, on the future of television and video. This is its first day.

SEWARD: We're calling it Glass because embedded in that name is an argument that the best way to understand media is as a competition for attention on these glass paneled screens that are connected to the Internet, whether that's a television set or your phone or tablet or laptop or monitor. It's all just glass.

FOLKENFLIK: Just blocks away in the heart of New York City, Rick Swope walked around Times Square. He's an engineer from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, standing below some of the biggest TV screens in the country. But he's looking down at his iPhone the whole time.

RICK SWOPE: I manage my whole business off of the phone. I don't look at any of the screens, to be honest with you.

FOLKENFLIK: In Seward's terms, Swope is a man who favors small screens over big ones. On Glass, Seward intends to form and share his thoughts about the future of television in real time. His writing will take the form of an outline.

SEWARD: It turns out, you know, outline is really how we all naturally take notes, and as a writing style it's obviously more casual, but I think it also has the potential to have a greater connection to readers.

FOLKENFLIK: The entrepreneur and innovator Dave Winer created the software that drives the site. He had a lot of influence on modern digital journalism. In the mid-1990s, he became one of the very first bloggers and he helped to create podcasting.

DAVE WINER: We have the best tools for units of information of a variety of different sizes, okay? So we've got, you know, text messaging. We've got Twitter. Next level up, we've got Tumblr. Next level up, you've got WordPress. But we don't have anything the next level up from that. That's where the innovation stopped.

FOLKENFLIK: Weiner's free software, called Fargo, allows readers to toggle between the taste and a full serving for any subject Seward posts on. Among the appeals, the ability to compress information on a single screen for mobile devices as readers can expand or compress posts without triggering different Web pages. And writers can continue adding new burst of information to older subjects.

That said, I emailed six leading digital journalists and tech figures to ask about Fargo and they said they simply didn't know enough to comment. Zach Seward told me he thought a core audience would sustain Glass's new approach.

SEWARD: And I don't expect that everyone will be interested in the first draft here on this notebook, but people who are similarly obsessed with the topic are likely to gravitate toward it.

FOLKENFLIK: The first draft of the first draft of history.

SEWARD: Exactly.

FOLKENFLIK: David Folkenflik, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.