Journalism 2010

This afternoon, I’m moderating a “superpanel” on the future of news at the Online News Association. The folks up there: Susan DeFife, president and CEO, Backfence; Neil Budde, news director, Yahoo!; Robert S. Cauthorn, president, CityTools; Lockhart Steele, managing editor, Gawker Media. The agenda asks: “Will journalism be as relevant at the end of this decade as it was in 1910? If information is power, the answer must be yes. But will journalists be the innovators or the commodity?”

Well, of course, I’d argue that information isn’t the only power; relationships and trust are, and so we’d better figure out what our relationship to the public is again. And I’d argue that we shouldn’t be worrying about journalists but instead about journalism, since new tools open journalism up to anyone. But I’m only the moderator, so I won’t be arguing that (well, I’ll try not to), and I’ll choose to define “superpanel” as Dave Winer would: The whole room is the panel. Hell, the world is the panel.

So what do you think I should bring up before these machers of online news? When I asked this the last time, Hugh MacLeod gave me a line that I quote in every damned powerpoint I ever give (how newspapers should stop thinking of themselves as things but rather as places where people come together to do good things in their communities).

What do you want to ask or say to the machers of online news today about their tomorrow?

: WHERE’S THE PASSION? I’m very glad Rafat Ali blogged his thoughts from a conversation we had at ONA yesterday:

This is perhaps the most exciting time to be an online journalist, at the most exciting time in the media sphere. Yet, at ONA, where was the passion? Where was the excitement about working in the most innovative time in the history of media? In its place what I see is self-doubt, existential crisis, a siege mentality….

Above all, where’s the entrepreneurship? The Web 2.0 thing, while may have been over hyped, at least has something at the core of it: innovation, on the cheap, and available to all. These are people who believe, and believe me, that’s half the battle won. Why is that mentality not coming to journalism, and specifically online journalism? Why isn’t more startup culture being encouraged at media companies? Yes, they’ll start blogs on their site, but beyond that, what? Why aren’t journalists being encouraged to be entrepreneurs, and the other way around? When will we have our version of the young-out-of-school-entrepreneurs amongst us? Isn’t the passion of creation the most basic of drivers? Where is that?

Right. They took one of the single most innovative people in news, Adrian Holovaty, and had him explain RSS. That was my frustration the last time I attended, two years ago, when blogs were at best the subject of condescension. This time, they had a blogging 101 session. Aren’t they past that? I fear not.

What the ONA should be doing is inviting in all the barbarians at their gates inside to challenge them: all the bloggers and vloggers and programmers and 2.0 publishers. who are reinventing news. I don’t know why they’d bother coming but the online news machers should be begging them to.

At the Museum of Television & Radio Media Center event, the news executives lamented the lack of product development and innovation in their business. Rafat is seeing the proof of that. You’d think that ONA would be the showcase for the newest, the place where that cutting edge is honed, the place to come to have your brain exploded. It’s not.

I’m going to start today’s panel by reading excerpts from Rafat’s post. This is exactly the challenge the online news machers need.