I smell fear

Reading the agenda of the World Newspaper Congress in the Kremlin — the Kremlin! — in June, I sense foreboding. Some of the sessions:

Should newspapers welcome citizen journalists? … But what are the consequences for quality newspaper journalism? By inviting their public to participate, are newspapers harming their primary function or is citizen journalism a useful means of maintaining relationships with the “free generation?” …

One of the most pressing dilemmas newspapers face today is how to integrate audio, video and interactivity into their news production. Should print journalists be trained on multiple platforms? Or should newspapers join forces with other media companies to provide multimedia news? …

Web portals and news agencies: new threats to newspapers? New media mean new competition for newspapers. News aggregators lead readers to other sources and Internet companies produce original content. News agencies directly access the public though their websites, skipping the newspaper middleman. …

Lessons from the Mohammed cartoon clash… Six panelists will discuss if there are limits for press freedom and how media responsibility can work in a globalized world. …

Media credibility: should newspapers rewrite editorial guidelines?…

Not a club of happy campers, I’d say. That’s all from the forum, which seems focused on the newsroom. The congress — which seems focused on the business side — concentrates, more wisely, on innovation. I like the title of this talk by Carolyn McCall, chief exec of Guardian Newspapers (where — full disclosure — I write and will consult): “How Guardian Newspapers Limited changed everything except our values in just 12 months.” And I’d say some new values are fair game, too. And I’d say the editors should be concentrating on innovation as well.

  • Mike G

    I want interesting reading, quality writing, expertise in a subject.

    And too often newspapers fail on all three counts. Their experts are old and tired, writing thumbsuckers on expense account from fancy dinner parties, and often knowing less than I do, let alone what people who really know the subject do; the writing is simplistic and hobbled by the need to speak to a broad audience without offense. And they tend to find out about things about a week after I do.

    That’s why they’ve lost me. And yet I love the idea of newspapers still; if there was one printed for me I’d gladly pay for it, but there isn’t.

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  • I think they’re fair questions. Maybe the mainstream media can’t win – if they don’t ask questions like this at one of their regular shindigs, they’re burying their collective head in the sand. If they do, they’re terrified.

    Maybe they’re genuinely interested?

    Besides, the panel for some of the sessions suggest that the organisers are open to ideas: Jimmy Wales and BBC News Interactive’s boss on the citizen journalists panel; Neil Budde of Yahoo News and the CEO of AFP for the portals session as a couple of examples.

    I’d be more worried about the fact that champion of free speech Vlad Putin is giving the opening address.

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  • WAN seems to have gotten more conservative this year than last. I even spoke about Topix.net and RSS at last year’s conference in Seoul. Krisha from Google News was there as well. The WAN guys themselves are really friendly but perhaps since they’re based in France they’ve been influenced by the AFP-Google News issue.

  • JD

    Just a note about media, etc. I came home from work a little early figuring the NBC would be broadcasting the women’s figure skating live.

    I saw on CNN that the last two groups were coming up, so I thought I could watch and work from home on my laptop.

    NBC is NOT broadcasting this live. Not on MSNBC or anywhwere.

    But Canadian Broadcasting is, so I’m working on my laptop., watching the competition on CBC, and also reading the incredible updates live online from CNN. Plus, I’m answering email, etc.

    By the time NBC broadcasts this, everyone will know what happened. And by the time the newspapers come out, it will be ancient history.

    BTW, it’s a nerve-wracking competition, and there are some big suprises and disappointments.

    This is the first time I’ve cared about the Olympics this year, and I think it’s because I am watching a whole competition, without editing and without knowing who won.

  • Old Grouch

    NBC Olympics promo heard on WLW this afternoon: “Who knows what stories will be told?”

    They’re so busy turning their coverage into “stories” that they miss the drama of the competition. Sports as soap opera.

    (‘Course, that’s what they do with the news, too.)

  • Dear Jeff,

    You need to understand that at the annual Newspapers Conference, there are two halls: one for editors – and it is called the World Editors Forum – and the second one for publishers: the Congress.

    And surprisingly, we don’t discuss the same thing: editors are focused on editorial quality, new media journalism and newsroom management while publishers are focused on advertising, marketing and corporate strategies. Sorry to be classical, but it is not the same job and that is the reason why the conference is divided in two poles.

    So, your presentation is rather vicious to consider that editors are Neanderthalians and outdated in opposition to publishers – the real Homo Sapiens Sapiens – welcoming innovations.

    At the 13th World Editors Forum, we have invited Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia, Jim Brady, Washington Post, Steve Herrmann, BBC News Interactive, Sanjay Trehan, Indiatimes. Are they representatives of the “old school”? Already Steve Yelvington, Morris Group, answered to your posting in his blog: thanks for his confidence to “Neanderthalians”.

    What I don’t understand is how you can be so schematic: publishers and the good, editors and the evil. Just try to imagine a non-binary world!

    We will be around 350 editors-in-chief in Moscow and another thing you need to understand is that what is good for America is not necessarily good for the rest of the world. Your call for innovation could be relevant if it was sided by a call for diversity. When circulation figures are falling in the States, they are increasing in Asia, when concentration reaches a peak in your country, it is more diversified in Germany and in continental Europe, when citizen journalism is the counterweigth of mainstream media, in many countries the public debate is rich enough.

    As I said in a recent conference, “In America you blog and you don’t vote, in Europe we vote but we don’t blog” it was a joke, but half a joke: what you see as a solution for democracy is for others an ersatz of democracy.

    So, no need to always repeat “innovation, innovation, innovation” as an “open sesame”: some are good, some revolting.

    Just to finish, you quote this presentation headline – How Guardian Newspapers Limited changed everything except our values in just 12 months.” – as a pure marvel, but only a politician or an Orwell addict can think that: do you think it is really positive to believe that you can change everything in twelve months? Don’t forget that we are talking about human beings, not robots and algorythms

    You just live in an Orwellian world and you want to convert people to this Orwellian world. But some will not, including me!

  • My, my, Bertrand, methinks ye doth protest too much.
    I’m hardly calling anyone “evil” or “Neanderthal” nor do I see how I am “vicious.” Be careful how you quote people, fellow journalist.
    I’m quoting from the program and noting simply that the editors seem to be obsessing on problems while the publishers seem to be focusing on innovation. I think that’s a fair summary of the themes. You may not but I don’t think it’s cause for the burst of emotion over this, nor for your own attack on the Guardian’s chief exec as “Orwellian.”
    Oh, and by the way, will the journalists present challenge Putin on his policies regarding the press and free speech in Russia, while you’re there?

  • Dear Jeff,

    My point was to say that the sessions’ presentations for the World Editors Forum were rather balanced and I didn’t understand your opposition between the “good conference” set-up by publishers and the “wrong conference” established by the Board members of the World Editors Forum.

    Regarding your criticism about the location of the Congress and the Forum, you may be right: the location is decided three years in advance and in 2003 the Russian media scene was “so-so” – not too bad – and it was decided to accompany Russian journalists, editors and publishers who wanted some international support. Now they are in big difficulties…

    It will be our duty to speak frankly with Russian authorities, even within the Kremlin palace.

    And for the next World Editors Forum, they will be located in 2007 in Capetown, South Africa and in 2008 in Göteborg, Sweden. Hope to see you there!

    Bertrand Pecquerie
    WEF Director

  • citizen journalists: Interesting idea. I think it might be interesting and would bring a different feel and an increased readership to the newspaper, but I also agree with what Mike G said above:

    “I want interesting reading, quality writing, expertise in a subject” and if it can be moderated in a way that provides this than we have accomplished something great.

    Thanks for the information,

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