Economics and change in news II — Questions

Economics and change in news II — Questions

: This is the second of two posts (the first is below) with my prep notes for a session I’m emceeing at this week’s Harvard conference on economic pressures on the news business. This is a list of broad strategic questions for the news business raised by the issues listed in the post below.

If you can bear more blather from me on the future of media, here’s a Q&A at Corante and a presentation I made at the Aspen Institute.

As with the post below, please add more questions and issues about journalism and blogging in this new era. Thanks.

Strategic questions

: In an era of consumer control, how do we give control to our consumers? How do we give up control ourselves, when that is antithetical to newsroom culture? How do we make news a conversation? A partnership? We must start by listening instead of lecturing.

: In age of transparency, how do we become fully transparent to regain our credibility and trust? Let’s reveal our full interviews (see Jay Rosen’s and my posts). Let’s reveal our process, our news judgment, the backgrounds and perspectives (and voting records) of reporters and editors. At the Aspen Institute discussion of transparency, some said we should be judged by our product, not our process. I say we need to be judged by both.

: The internet creates new relationships. What is our relationship with our public? What should it be? How do we change it? How do we increase the respect we give to the public (and the public to us)? How do we regain the humility and humanity of journalism, taking us down off the pedestals we built so we can report the news eye-to-eye? How do we tear down the walls of the newsroom to build familiarity? How can we bring reporters and the public in direct contact (e.g., MeetUps)? Can we still stand at the center of the public square (where blogger Hugh MacLeod says we should think of products not as a “thing” but as a “place” — a community).

: How do we serve a mass of niches instead of the mass audience? How do we afford to do that? How do we assure we do not ghettoize and marginalize those publics?

: How can we take advantage of this diverse new medium to enhance the diversity of our own news products and organizations?

: Are we in the news media — along with leaders in politics — dividing the nation into red and blue when, instead, we should be building bridges?

: In this new, distributed world — where the value of the marketplace and distribution is diminished, where the internet is the network no one owns — how do we take advantage of the distribution our audience can bring us? Shouldn’t we find ways to encourage P2P distribution? Shouldn’t we consider copyright (creative commons) licensing that allows the audience to do this? Would we not benefit from the added distribution, branding, and marketing? Can we give up that much control?

On citizens’ media

: How do we use citizens to help us get news, information, and diverse viewpoints? We cannot afford to grow our newsrooms. We should gather news from citizens who can now report it thanks to new tools for gathering news (e.g., cameraphones) and distributing it (weblogs). What issues of vetting and credibility does this raise? (See hyperlocal citizens’ media projects:, NorthwestVoices, Backfence.)

: How can we enable the growth of citizens’ media (after agreeing that’s both a good and inevitable fate)?

> How can we — journalists and journalism educators — train citizen journalists in the standards of professionalism (and how they can train us in openness)?

> How can we promote them and highlight their coverage?

> How can we underwrite them? Should we create ad networks (which also increase our reach)? Once we find this can be profitable, we should not exploit them only for our benefit.

> Shouldn’t we push to afford citizen journalists the protections and rights journalists have (helping to defend them in appropriate libel cases, making sure they get shield protection, getting them access and credentials)? To exclude them from these protections and privileges sets precedents that are dangerous for professional journalists as well.

On change and training

: We should train the public to judge the news differently, to become:

> Skeptical of the first reports (the fog of war).

> Adept at judging news according to the perspective of its source (reporter, bloggers, newsmakers).

> Adept at judging news from us (and helping us correct it; see Rather).

: How do we break newsrooms out of the ego of the container and serve news to citizens wherever and however they want it served (online, via mobile, via search, via RSS, via audio or video, via blogs)? [It isn’t easy!]

: We need to retrain newsrooms in multimedia and interactivity. How should news organizations and colleges do that?

Financial questions

: How do we continue to financially support quality newsgathering? How do we find new efficiencies? How do we maintain quality? [Cue Dan Gillmor on news industry margins.]

: How do we deemphasize — and spend less resource on — commodity news the audience already knows so we can concentrate on what we do best and our greatest value: reporting, local news, and so on?

: Can we consolidate but maintain localness and quality and responsiveness?

On perspective

: How do we incorporate commentary and reporting?

: Can we regain the brave voice of journalism?

  • “Control the conversation by improving the conversation”.
    It’s my new post-Cluetrain marketing mantra. Heh.

  • Shorter Jeff Jarvis:
    How do we hold down this pig, and what shade of lipstick should we put on it?
    journalism has become the factory where “pasteurized, processed news product” is manufactured.
    Journalism is no longer practiced, except on the fringes of the mass media. Newspapers, who once saw their primary product as news itself, are now run by giant corporations who see the “product” as the audience that the paper attracts. Networks that once regarded news as a public service, now consider their news divisions profit centers.
    Nevertheless, gasbags continue to flog the useful fiction that there is something called “journalistic ethics”, and thus we have Jeff Jarvis asking “serious” questions about ethics and standards under ‘new business models’ for a “serious” conference on “Journalism, Blogging, and Credibility”
    This is the equivalent of John Negroponte asking “serious” questions about human rights at a conference on the promotion of democratic principles.

  • Great, great questions and thinking. But I want to address one assumption that you make.
    “How can we — journalists and journalism educators — train citizen journalists in the standards of professionalism (and how they can train us in openness)?”
    Jeff, the reason that Fox succeeded is that Ailes saw a niche market, which was only half the country (can we call it 51%?). As bloggers and as readers of blogs, we see bloggers out-professional the “professionals.” We’ve come to see “professionalism” in media to mean leftist bias. Geez, take any number of news stories, like these two:
    > Ignoring the shenigans at the UN for as long as the media did. That was a blog-propelled story.
    > The good news in Iraq (seldom reported) vs. the bad news in Iraq (almost always reported).
    I don’t want “open” media. I want honest media. I don’t want half the story, and I don’t want half the story that paints Bush or Republicans or the US in a bad light. Fine, if that’s the whole truth. But the press routinely leaves out the pro-Bush, pro-Republican, pro-US angles.
    Most journalists are Democrats. That often shades their world and their reporting.
    Your assumption of “professionalism” in Big Media is a conviction the rest of us are leaving behind. I would pay attention to more of what Big Media has to offer if I could trust the reporting. I can’t. So I find other sources. That vacuum is what Fox and blogs have come to fill.
    Big Media is missing half the country. If they want to grow their revenues, they can start with that “niche.”

  • Lex

    The problem with the niche that Fox serves is that the product it seeks isn’t facts or truth, but information that conforms to its world view, as this study suggests. Which would be fine except that that’s one hell of a way to run a constitutional republic.
    As a Republican journalist, I’m also amused by the notion that being a Democrat causes liberal reporting. The possibility that fair, accurate, thorough reporting — learning more about a subject than all but a few people, and far more than most readers/viewers — causes one to become more liberal never seems to occur to conservative critics. I’m not arguing that it happens all the time, or even all that much, but it does happen, and a lot of conservative media critics flatly deny the possibility.

  • I can see a big paradox with the journalism discussion. On one hand citizen journalism is rising, and we (including yours truly) want it to grow and develop. Yet we also want to reinvent traditional media and make sure quality, well-funded journalism remains paramount. You can have it both ways, but the key is remembering who is a journalist, and who is not. All bloggers, by definition are not journalists in the professional sense. Different rules apply for bloggers and journalists, and the discussion should be clear about where those rules intersect, complement, and compete with each other.