If you had a working Wayback Machine, what would you tell yourself in 1998?

Pat Thornton, who blogs as The Journalism Iconoclast, posted a fun thought-puzzle the other day: If you could jump into the time machine and go back ten years, what would you tell yourself in 1998 about journalism, and where it’s headed.

Here’s my list, which is in no way complete. What’s on yours?

I love time machines. I’m assuming I can take supporting documentation back with me to make the case.

The more obvious things are, well, obvious (Go live sooner. Link out liberally. Refer to the web from the paper. Put email addresses next to bylines. Don’t waste years thinking about paid content and registration). What follows are the tweaks I wish I could go back and make.

1. Save everything. Stop throwing away stories after two weeks. You’re burning history. And take a screen shot of the site every day. You’ll be glad you did.

2. Find geeks who love news. Pay them well. Ask them to start thinking about how to make all that saved data accessible and findable.

3. Establish a $50 fine for anyone in your organization that uses the phrase “capture eyeballs.” The web is not television. Though, you’ll be surprised to hear, it becomes a very efficient delivery device for video. Full-screen video. Does that make you think of possibilities? It should.

4. Don’t listen to the Big Iron guys in IT when they argue the relative merits of Sybase and Oracle. Ignore them, and don’t spend a penny on these programs. Instead, insist on free My SQL as your database.

5. Stop thinking about articles. Think data. Break articles into chunks of data.

6. Read Dave Winer. Pay close attention. He’s a bit of a nut, but if it’s 1998, almost everything he’s saying is right.

7. Digitize and curate your photo library. It’s a local treasure and worth tons of traffic. (This tip valid in 2008, as well)

8. In fact, open up the entire library for free searching. (”Preach The Long Tail” years before it’s written.)

9. Establish another $50 fine for the term “lock in.” The web is open and slippery. And that’s a good thing that will benefit you in the long run.

10. Teach your reporters to blog. Use Romenesko as the gateway drug.

11. Insist that each story created by the newsroom have attached meta-data, including topic keywords and location. Let the guys from #2 use it in amazing and surprising ways.

12. Repeat after me: “Publishing online counts as publishing. You don’t have to save it for the paper.”

13. You’ve incubated the web group separate from the newsroom to allow a culture and a business to emerge. Good. But now you need to start planning to merge into one news operation that publishes for multiple platforms. Don’t wait much longer for this.

14. Google these names at least weekly in the next few years: Craig Newmark, Jimmy Wales, Nick Denton, Jason Calacanis, Mark Cuban, Kevin Rose. Whatever they’re up to, pay attention, don’t scoff, and borrow liberally.

15. Talk to your users. Add bulletin boards. Attach comments to stories. Participate. That “connection” you’ve always wanted with your readers? The one you pay focus group leaders thousands of dollars to fake? It’s yours for the asking, and it’s free.

(SunSpot.net grab actually from 1997. See what I mean about saving your screenshots? I stopped before 1998, and the actual Wayback Machine has broken images on most of the pages.)

Got a better list? Go to Journalism Iconoclast and add to the discussion.

Tim Windsor

VP, Content & Conversion at LendingPoint LLC
I lead media companies and other organizations that want to develop and improve their mobile and digital strategies and technologies, grow audience, and build sustainable digital revenue.