Symposium: The Challenge

The topic of conversation this morning is reaching young people – and finding ways to engage them in the reading and writing/covering of the news. Unfortunately, the people having the conversation are all old.  I don’t mean that in a bad way – there is nothing wrong with growing up.  But it clearly makes it more difficult to understand younger audiences you are trying to reach. 

Here are some notes/insights from the conversation.  My brain is tired, so I will keep this short.

-         I would argue that most news is not ‘reported’ in the newspapers or even on the web, but rather ‘communicated’ from person to person.  I tell my wife something about what I did at work… that little tidbit of information impacts her life and informs her way of thinking in some small way…. and that makes it news to her. I get an email from a friend… I feel compelled to pass that story along to another friend… and that brings me closer, or sparks a side conversation with that person… that is news to me.  On that theory, the future of journalism will not be determined by what institution figures out how to market its newspaper in the way that drives the most revenue (i.e. more people are buying the news) or some new technology that delivers content faster (i.e. allows news to travel faster).  It will be shaped by what people choose to communicate – in the same, organic, personalized way they have always done so. It doesn’t matter if you are communicating about a war, a basketball game, or what you thought of your lunch at the café on the corner.  Its news.

-         We all seem to agree that trust is perhaps the most important thing in our lives.  We want to trust people.  We need to trust people. Following that train of thought -- the news industry must achieve a level of trust with us if they want to play a big role in our lives.  So how can the industry achieve that trust?  How do you gain someone’s trust? I don’t have a formula for it, but I know it takes time, it helps to be honest, responsiveness and genuine interest go along way. In short, you have to be yourself. Who is the news industry? Who is the LA Times? What is the personality of CNN and how are people supposed to develop the personal relationship with them.

-         Last point – about politics.  The Republicans beat the Democrats in the 2004 election because they were able to develop a higher level of trust between their audience and their candidate. It wasn’t (just) about moral values. It wasn’t (just) about television advertising. Voters wanted to meet their candidates face-to-face and feel comfortable with their style of leadership.  The media successfully balanced the need for breaking news stories with long, thoughtful profiles and in-depth analysis of key issues that helped people to understand where candidates stood on the issues (and when they couldn’t articulate clearly their beliefs).  And above all, the election was decided on the ground.  The Republicans had a better planned and executed effort to deploy volunteers to get out the Republican vote.  The Democrats hired field operatives, gave them scripts, and asked them to do the impossible – to manufacture trust.  Where is the lesson for media?  Get out of the newsroom. Stop hiding behind the broadsheets. Journalism is as much about personal interaction and learning from the person who lives down the street from you as it is about talking to experts and getting scoops. Let’s find the balance.



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March 4, 2005 in Connected Society | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Symposium: Must Read

Look!  An example of what we have been talking about here at the Symposium - a news source that combines whats best about blogs and journalism into one package.  Via Matt Gross:

New West Network

"The Network is a group of writer/reporters (aka bloggers) both here and in Missoula and in towns around the region.  We aim to marry the best of what blogs have brought to the table - an accessilbe, conversational style; an open, honest attitude and point of view; the power of linking and connection - with the legwork and accuracy standards that go with more traditional journalism.  The Network also is a source for Westerners to respond to developments in their hometown or contribute their own stories.  We want to create a hub for people in the West to come and discuss the issues at hand."

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Symposium: Day 2

I'm back at the Neiman Center for Day 2 of the Whose News? Symposium.

We're talking about reaching new audiences (and young audiences) this morning, and how the media must adapt to meet our changing culture.

Meanwhile, The Note reports this morning that Frank Rich is taking a swing at the media in Sunday's New York Times.  I'm sure we will discuss.

More later.

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Symposium: Open Source Media

We ended today talking about the concept of Open Source Media. Can we do it? What would it look like?  Would it work? 

The discussion initially focused on what the business model for Open Source Media would look like – maybe a piece of technology that collects input from different sources, a distributed ad or content model to help generate revenue as an incentive for people to participate.  The general sense was that the software needed to coordinate this effort should be the commodity, not the offering.  The news is the offering.  Content is kind.

I jumped in with two points: 1) That media is already open source -- they have op-eds, guest columnists, even letters to the editor, all generated from outside the newsroom.  And now with blogs, there is a whole new source of (sometimes) credible content to utilize.  The problem is, editorial leadership at most news organizations are stuck in an old model, refusing to take advantage of these new resources.  2) Politics had succeeded in creating its first open source campaign effort this past cycle, with some very positive results.  The Dean campaign had media consultants.  They had a campaign manager. They had paid staff – both in the national headquarters and in key states throughout the nation. And on top of all that they also had a blog with open comments, which allowed their supporters to post their ideas, criticisms, observations, and intelligence from the field. In most cases, that input wasn’t relevant or practical for the campaign – and in those situations, the leadership just rejected it. In other cases, the campaign took the suggestions and implemented them… with great success.  There is a lesson for the media in what politics has accomplished.

Media has an opportunity to make its content development process (i.e. article writing) open-source. Reporters will still have to do the leg work, walk their beats, interview people, and check their sources. By they can also get unsolicited first hand accounts, different perspectives, even news content that is ready for publication from a variety of sources outside the traditional newsroom.  They just have to be willing to accept it.

A few articles to consider:

Here is Micah Sifry’s article about Open Source Politics and the Dean campaign.

Dana Blankenhorn suggests some ways politics could go open source (like IBM)

And Dan Froomkin, who is here at the Symposium, wrote a story about Why Beat Reporters Could Be News Sites' Greatest Secret Weapon, a practical first step for media beingn open source.

Read 'em all.

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Symposium: What Should Be Created?

One more list... what should is missing from journalism today?  What should be created?

Here's what the group came up with:

A new form of digital storytelling

True internet video

Distribute ad infrastructure

Distributed revenue infrastructure (around content)

Distributed trust infrastructure

More visualized stories than narrative stories (graphics, data, etc.)

Better means to hear what the people are saying

What are people saying?  Is it credible?  Is it good?
Reputation system for journalists

Open source journalist at a major news organization

Better taxonomy: Readers ability to tag stories

More databases, more data collection

More niche initiatives – blogs, newsletters, sites, whatever

Training programs for reporters

Training programs to help readers/consumers to contribute

Use technology to make news gathering more efficient, cost effective

(How many journalists does it take to change a lightbulb?)

More value-add

Find things done better on the web and do them there (don’t replicate activities, or content)

More Research and Development

Geo-tag everything

More contact between reporters and people (not just online)

Primers, FAQs, Timelines – things that harness the knowledge of beat reporters

Real product development – processes within media companies to think about new innovations

Develop systems to tap knowledge of community, audience

Transparency – how you develop your stories, transcripts of interviews, etc.

Asking for help – publishing drafts

Open the archives

Everything available through RSS

Community conversation – audience talking to each other

Means for developing outside the news organization

Fun, cool, guilty pleasure – journalism should be something compelling, that ‘sucks you in’

Certification process for information (what is quality, what is not)

Qualification or licensing

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Symposium: What should survive? What should change?

The question of ‘will traditional journalism/meainstream media survive?’ is very broad.  So broad, in fact, we spent twenty minutes listing what elements of traditional journalism we think should survive and which things we believe should change.

Here is the raw list of what we came up with*:

Survive

Ability to speak truth to power

Access to power

Facts in context

Hellraising

Holy Crap! Stories

Foreign reporting going on in far away places

Investigative pieces

Long story telling

Serendipity

Voice

Holding the powerful accountable

Informing collaborative democracy

Increasingly knowledge about eachother

Sense of outrage

Data mining

Expertise

Authenticity

Vigorous challenging of sources

Witnessing (being present)

Observing (with neutrality)

Investigating

Gadflying

Compelling Narratives

Synthesizing/Filtering

Good writing

Good spelling

Comforting the afflicted

Value truth over power and money

Integrity

Accountability

Common Sense

Creativity and delight

Service

Independence

Dedication to accuracy

Transparency (if it still there)

Responsiveness to the audience

Journalism as a public trust

Getting the story right, getting the right story

Op-eds

Evidence based journalism

Making the important interesting

Making the interesting important

Fairness

Making the important important

Objectivity

Timeliness

Asking probing questions

Change

Stop ignoring interactive tools at their disposal

Acknowledge truth is a plural – there are more than two sides to a story

Tell a more whole story

Assumption the audience is stupid (must go)

‘Voice’ of newspapers (need to put style back into individual reporting)

Transparency (let the process be known)

Listen (to the people)

Too much showing off (need to get to the point faster)

Get ride of ‘afflict the comfortable, comfort the afflicted’

Embrace the customer as innovator and partner

More focus on what people mean not what they say (reading between the lines)

More emphasis on the need to serve the public trust

More cross training of disciplines

Less silo-ing of topics

Obsession with balance rather than fairness – gone

Centralization of media (WalMart media needs to be the mom-and-pop media again)

Gutlessness (fear of looking partisan) – should only be afraid of being wrong

Punch and Judy broadcast journalism (fight it out, cut to commercial)

Stenography as a way of covering

Need to develop products that take advantage of specific mediums (i.e. newspaper websites shouldn’t just post the articles that appear in the print version, they should be developing web-specific content, organizing web-only discussions, etc.)

Stop passing off infotainment as news

Industry should be more receptive to change management

Organizational structure of newsrooms – less hierarchy, more flexibility

More news for young people – real news

More ‘blurting out the truth’

Training (smaller, more scaleable ways to give people expertise)

Compensation

Change the location of corrections and clarifications (to front page?)

More collaboration

Champion what news thinks is right

Journalism should regain independence (too much tie to politics and product placement)

Copyright

More ‘inside out reporting’

Get rid of foreign news/domestic news division – make it ‘news gathering’

* There was no consensus for the items on this list.  It was a big brain dump.  Everyone has a different view of the state of journalism.  The group even debated what the real message behind the published research on media performance (Journalist.org , Pew, etc.) was.

What did we miss?  What else about journalism should survive?  What else needs to change?

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Symposium: Will traditional journalism survive?

We’ve been talking all morning about whether traditional journalism will survive. There have been two main strings:  First, the group went back-and-forth about whether or not the culture of journalism needed to change, or if it could survive a dramatic shift.  Everyone agreed that a shift was needed though the discussion shifted course before we got to the specifics of what that culture change might look like.  Second, there was consensus that new and better training (as well as general understanding) for journalists would need to exist, and play a key role, if a shift in culture was to become permanent.  Funding for such training, be it at the university level or by foundations, is down and the result is less training. More reporters go out into the world without an understanding of what to do and how to do it.  That is arguable a bad thing.

I believe there is an analogy here to politics (surprise!). Just as we have been discussing the future of big media here at the symposium and trying to answer the question ‘is traditional journalism dead?’’, a discussion rages in political circles as to whether or not political parties are dead.  Naturally, the perspective from within the political establishment is that political parties are very relevant.  Similarly, those who make their living practicing journalism think the future of their profession are optimistic (though willing to admit it needs an update, something many political professionals have trouble doing.

So I spoke up.  Here were my four points:

1) Jay Rosen noted that there is a culture in the newsroom that people running/writing for small-town newspapers ‘don’t have it’ and that is why they aren’t in the big-time jobs.  That same perspective exists in politics, where the national party or big-time campaign staffers view the state and local organizers as less-knowledgeable or less sophisticated.  But those upstart campaign managers, those outside-the-beltway consultants, and those candidates that ‘say it how it is’ are often the ones that gain attention, and sometimes even win. Its time for Big Media to understand more about, and even adopt, the things that make small town, local journalists a success. And everyone else needs to understand more about, and even adopt, some of the standards that Big Media is held to. We’ll meet up somewhere in the middle and be the better for it.

2) There was a general agreement among the folks here that resources (read: money) was not the reason traditional media wasn’t evolving more quickly.  Rather, it is the lack of buy-in by those who own and run newspapers and television networks that evolution was both necessary and good.  For a while now, the suggestion that political parties could evolve to run smarter, more cost-efficient, more effective campaigns were dismissed. Political parties have raised and spent incredibly large sums of money on broadcast advertising and field programs. More recently, the Republicans have prioritized institutional development and technological advancement, investing money back into new tools and talent.  In 2004 they successfully merged consumer data with their voter files and message testing to produce an increasingly personalized political experience for their target constituents.  The Democrats have not made training or investment in infrastructure a priority until very recently (and you could argue their recent defeats were the direct result of that) but have now seen some of the light. As in politics, the culture shift in media will take some time still. But Big Media shouldn’t fear change -- they should welcome and pursue it.

3) Amy Sullivan wrote Fire All the Consultants.  When will we see the article ‘Fire All The Editors’? written. And will it make those in power at major newspapers and news networks shake in their boots the same way direct mail and advertising consultants in Washington, DC did?

4) The Democratic political establishment is afraid of what Howard Dean will do to the Party as Chairman. But rank and file Democrats – ‘the base’ (or at least some representative sample of it) - are genuinely optimistic.  Either way, it’s a good bet that the Party will shift to reflect Dean’s more grassroots perspective. Maybe Big Media needs to appoint editors that don’t come from within, but instead spent the last few years shaking up the system, and (gasp!) failing brilliantly and dramatically for all to see? It would welcome a different perspective to the newsroom.  And though it might be scary, the news consumer might be genuinely optimistic about the opportunities that kind of change would result in as well.

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Symposium: Session 1

Bill Winter, the former President and Executive Director of the American Press Institute noted in his opening remarks to ‘Mainstream Media in a Connected Society’ session that several foreign newspapers have switched to a tabloid format and seen a rise of 6-8% in their circulation the following year. (A recent article in Forbes addressed this as well).

A change in newspaper format is certain to spark some interest – its something new and fresh. But it is not a long term solution. The same basic failures that we are discussing today (there are many) may be masked by color photos, but they won’t be solved. Eventually, people will realize the papers are still pushing the same ‘news’ and the readership will once again decline.

One of my (many) side interests is the public development of sports stadiums… and I think there is an analogy here. Advocates for professional stadium development claim that a new stadium will result in an increase in attendance at their events (more people = more revenue).  After a new stadium is built, you may also see the team who occupies it performing better (more fans = more excitement, more revenue for the team = the ability to sign better players, etc.).  Here’s an excerpt from a paper I wrote in college Baseball In the American City:

Attendance. A team playing in a new stadium can typically expect an increase in attendance of around 15% just because it's new. According to Quirk and Fort, this results from an increase in drawing potential of a team, the more a profit maximizing team finds it worthwhile to spend in improving the caliber of the team. Table 2A demonstrates that all of the teams who have moved into new stadiums in the past decade have enjoyed dramatic increases in attendance. The same teams who began playing in new stadiums also experienced more success in results. In effect, a new stadium converts a small town market into a market that is not quite so small as before, and the profit incentives this crates lead predictably to the teams acquiring higher-quality players, producing a better performance on the field. It should be noted, however, once the novelty wears off, the stadium will have trouble drawing fans by itself. If the team struggles on the field, so may attendance over time.

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Symposium: Opening Thoughts

We went around the table this morning -- everyone was asked to share their bio and a couple thoughts on the topic.  Here is my opening thought:

I got involved with little ‘p’ politics because I thought it was important to advance the cause of little ‘d’ democracy (I still think that). As a writer and analyst on the issues of the internet and politics, I now consider myself a part of the little ‘m’ media.  There are a lot of people who participate in politics and democracy – either by advocating for their school board or lobbying to have a stop sign put up, all the way up to helping elect a candidate or contacting their elected representatives.  But they largely do so without thinking of themselves as being involved in politics.  There are an equally large number of people who are involved in media – because they read or watch the news, see or participate in events and tell others about it, and similar. People become naturally passionate about politics and democracy – they are personal issues. How can we get people to be equally excited about the cause of media? And what will that mean to the future of media, politics, and democracy?

The Media Center's blog listed some of the other opening thoughts.

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Symposium: Whose News

The Media Center at the American Press Institute and The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University are holding a two-day symposium on the future of the media, technology, and the common good.  I was invited to participate.

They write: "Whose News? is the second annual symposium conducted by The Media Center on the “mediamorphosis” of society. We’ll address topics addressing the future of news media, the changing relationships between media and the society, and technology’s effect on news and information. Our goal is to assess impact and implications for creating a better-informed society."

I will be blogging from here for the next two days.  Stay tuned.

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