Report of Journalism That Matters Breakout session
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- 9:00 am Sessions
Migrating Local Journalism
We focused on the question of whether the function of local journalism would and should survive as newspapers continued their downward decline. Can/should we build a new model for sustaining robust, high quality local journalism?
The premise of crowd-sourcing is that there are/will be enough people to generate the local new coverage that's now provided by professional journalists (mostly by local newspapers). This is true for some types of news (national and international sites, specific issues that can be sourced out to citizen journalists). It's less true for local city hall.
Among our big questions: How do we retain the knowledge that's now held in the minds of e.g. the city hall reporter with ten years of historical memory? How to combine this with the knowledge that grows up from the neighborhoods? How to sustain the core of journalism and does this require a corps of journalists?
Russell Okamoto, a software engineer and creator of the micro-local site PublicPress.org, Portland, suggested that the micro-local sites meet many of the needs of people in the neighborhoods that aren't being met by the newspapers. He suggested that if people don't read the local papers, it's because they are not supplying the real needs of their readers. People want: -micro-local information -storytelling -connecting to the subjects and people you know -credbility built up through local webs of trust
Norman Sims offered the model of VillageSoup.com as one that combined a reasonable paid news staff (14) with robust citizen contributions. (Village Soup also publishes a weekly print edition). Norman also suggested that some "am" journalists were people trained as journalists, some working in other fields, or in places they didn't expect to be, others retired.
The question of turnover of citizen journalists was discussed. In the Madison Commons, citizens are trained well, files stories, but rarely stay around. H2OTown also has a rotating group of contributors who come and go. Raises the problem of whether training citizen journalists actually creates a flow of citizen journalist, or satisfies other needs that people have.
A final quesiton was how to take professional/citizen models and make the work in medium and larger cities. Voice of San Diego is one prime example of a competitive web-paper in a major metro area, founded by former reporters for the San Diego Tribune with a mixed advertiser/membership model. Voice of San Diego has grown, met some cash flow projections.
Russell noted that the need for professional journalists is particularly important when there are public policy issues, for example, disputed elections.