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Journalism That Matters -- the DC Sessions: What will happen when only the journalism is left?



This page is in use by participants in "Journalism That Matters: The DC Sessions" to post brief summaries (150-200 words) of partner interviews. Click on the "edit" tab on the top of the page paste or type in your report below any other text. BACK TO QUESTIONS

Interview with Sam Chaltain by Peggy Holman

It never occurred to me that I’d discover a kindred spirit as an interview partner! While Sam Chaltain is primarily focused on education, his thoughts on how interconnected we – and the systems we’ve created – are seemed relevant to the challenge of telling meaningful and useful stories in a complex world. He sees himself as someone who helps people link what is in their hearts and minds so that they can grasp the interdependence of all things in useful and compelling ways.

He elaborated later in the conversation saying, “I think it comes down to storytelling. We need to spend more time telling our own stories, listening to our own stories, talking about what makes a good story, grounding our conversations in personal narrative and experience.”

He told me a story about his relationship to reading the newspaper that gave some useful insight into how news is most effectively delivered in a digital age. He fears that we are falling in love with technology rather than recognizing that what is most important is paying attention to the fundamental truth of how humans work: that we look for the opportunity to feel connected. When technology enables connection, it is useful; witness the success of the Internet. When asked to envision the future of journalism, Sam saw it as much less institutional, more connected and collaborative, shaped by the influences Thomas Friedman discusses in The World is Flat. He sees the power of the individual to spread ideas very quickly, and that this dynamic will lead to more individual motivation, hopefully a more vibrant and ongoing conversation, and ultimately, less professionalized journalism (in a good way).

In terms of economic viability, while having no specific answer, he offered the example of Netflix and Block Buster. The business models that emerge will demand risk, they will be innovative, creating a new expectation of audience behavior by following a course that is likely counterintuitive to the prevailing wisdom.

As a non-journalist, I was delighted by the experience, not expecting to find so much common perspective, language and commitment to similar emerging beliefs and values with my interview partner. I look forward to meeting him in person!

Interview between [Jennifer McClure] and [Shawn McIntosh]

We'll second the sentiments above regarding the organizers finding an excellent match between participants; it was unbelievable how much we had in common regarding research interests, background, (and the length of time it's taking us to finish graduate schooling).

We both agreed that claims of the death of mainstream journalism are greatly exaggerated, and that a far more likely outcome will be some kind of symbiotic relationship between citizen journalism or collaborative journalism practices and some of the ideals of mainstream journalism.

The proposed economic model of the TNN was cause for some concern, namely because of some aspects of the plan that called for tiers of service according to ability to pay. This seemed to us that it would exacerbate digital divide issues rather than alleviate them, as the groups who could most benefit from all the information that could be available would be least likely to be able to afford it. This struck us as reinforcing some of the most detrimental aspects of "traditional" journalism that conceptualizes the (mass) audience as largely passive and as consumers rather than citizens (that language also creeps into some aspects of the plan).

We discussed an economic model that emphasized what journalism is supposed to be doing anyway--creating knowledge from data and various sources of information that otherwise would not be available. Although not without its potential downfalls, creating a kind of "analyst division" within a news organization could serve a dual purpose; it would provide a rich source of data and information that journalists could draw from for investigative-style stories or series, and it could be a valuable source of data to be sold to businesses who may find the information useful for their own reasons (and who would essentially be paying for the information gathering and data analysis). As long as corporations did not dictate what studies were done or data was collected, it could be a model that serves both the public (for free) and corporations willing to pay for information.

Educating the public on journalism practices was another area we were both very interested in, and something that begs for more development. It could be that through learning about some of the critical thinking skills, willingness to question authority, and clear writing are exactly the qualities that an engaged citizenry should have. In other words, perhaps citizen journalism is not about the product, but the process.

Interview with Sara Melillo by Leonard Witt

When Sara Melillo, journalism program officer at the McCormick Tribune Foundation, commutes to work on public transportation she sees almost everyone reading the give away RedEye, maybe the Chicago Tribune, but rarely the New York Times or Wall Street Journal. “They have the market nailed.” It’s short to read, cheers you up in the morning and the bigger surpise is that the RedEye age demographic is higher than expected -- average is 42 years old.

She is young, and her friends are not reading the papers. The “why” part of why they are not reading has not been teased out enough, more research needs to be done. She knows these people and they do care, if you talk to them they are informed. They want more perspective, the idea of objectivity is less appealing. They watch the Daily Show, but are not fooled that it is news, instead they call things like they see them.

Ultimately, she thinks we will see a journalism with more audience engagement in which people will have a stake in what is produced.

Discussion between Steve Petersen and Jay Rosen

New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen has focused on the role of the citizen in journalism for many years -- including writing the book What Are Journalists For?, which was published in 1999. He soon felt frustrated in trying to promote greater citizen involvement in journalism through interaction with professional journalists. It wasn't until 2003 when a student told him about blogging; he learned only one link from a major site would drive thousands of visitors to read a specific post. This amazed him and inspired him to start his own blog about involving citizens in journalism -- Press Think. He soon connected with blogger/media critic Jeff Jarvis who helped introduce him to prominent early adopters of blogging. Further, his blog enables him to bypass professional journalists and interact with the citizen he wants to inspire and empower.

During our discussion about the future of news we focused on the skills that journalists will need and not necessarily the structure of the industry. I feel that as the ability and adoption of the general public to focus on niches burgeons, that people will have a much narrower news diet that focuses on what affects them based on their geography and interests. However, I'm concerned that they will filter out information (ie pogroms in Darfur) that they should/need to know. An important role in this scenario is a journalist who knows and studies an audience (beyond circulation figures or Nielsen or Albitron ratings) so that they can successfully push such information through a person's filters without offending them.

Jay shared an interesting example of one journalist who has used social media to turn her audience into a community and tap into it for information. Wired.com's Sex Drive columnist Regina Lynn uses an on-line discussion forum to gather information. For instance, community members can provide er... product reviews. Jay emphasized that this community exists without her involvement since its members share a common interest that they want to discuss. We feel that her use of this forum is an important skill that journalists will need in the future.--Spetersen 14:08, 30 July 2007 (EDT)

Jay Rosen writes: Steve Petersen said that his internet strategy firm, Bivings Group, sees consulting with newspaper companies on their web future as a new practice area, so that is one reason he's coming. He's also personally interested in citizen journalism, as evidenced by his participation in NewAssignment.Net's Assigment Zero, and the YouTube/CNN candidates' debate. We talked a lot about the skills that future journalists will need and the problem usually known as "the Daily Me." Steve is persuaded that the future of news companies will include a healthy role for amateur contributors, but like others he is still trying to figure out what that role will be.

----Talking with Leonard Witt (posted by Sara Melillo)---

Leonard Witt will bring enthusiasm and energy to the upcoming JTM - along with years of experience in the public journalism sphere. After spending years in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, he's now the Robert Fowler Chair in Communication at Kennesaw State University in Georgia (where unlike at most campuses, there's plenty of parking). It was fascinating to hear about the origins of public journalism and how it has informed his view of the field. He got his start in this arena when he worked with Minnesota Public Radio to set up a Public Journalism initiative and through the Public Journalism Network (www.pjnet.org).

Leonard believes social media is a real flash point for journalism now. He hosted a conference in February on social media and in just two weeks 270 people from all industries signed up. "What surprised me the most was that I thought there'd be a lot of young geeky people...And it was predominantly people from area businesses and it spanned all ages and races," he said.

All this work has informed Leonard's next big idea, which he calls Representative Journalism. In this model, the idea is to try and seek out small groups of like-minded people to sponsor coverage of issues or journalists writing about certain topics that matter to them. For instance, there could a group of 1,000 people who pay $100 per year to sponsor diabetes coverage. Obviously, there are a lot of questions that arise from the model (How do you ensure a balanced news agenda, for example?), but Leonard's looking for feedback and will be blogging on the topic soon. Ultimately, like most JTM participants, he wants to know "What kind of model can you set up for supporting journalism if advertising stops supporting journalism?"

As for the future, he wants to know "what journalism will be like when only the journalism is left." He's guessing it's still going to be there, but will probably look different, thanks to disruptive technology that is faster, cheaper and easier to use. One thing still worries him though about all this innovation, and that's the financial model for new ventures.

A conversation between Carol White book review editor ePluribus Media and Margaret Freivogel, co-founder, St. Louis Platform, Kirkwood, Mo.

Posted by Carol.

I think Margaret and I both found our discussion fruitful because we come from opposite ends of the spectrum. She and her husband, former writers for the St. Louis Post Dispatch, are presently engaged in starting a local online newspaper. The model that they are following seems to me to be very similar to the one we will be discussing at the conference. Margaret had not checked out the info on this so I told her about the Media Giraffe model. She said that they hope to be up and running by late fall. They definitely see the need for quality local journalism that will investigate issues such as economic developing, environmental concerns and local politics. A sidelight will be reports on new medical technologies because there is a lot of interesting research going on now on this, in St. Louis. I on the other hand live near Leesburg, VA and am a contributing writer to a local paper there. We have ten local papers in our area and they do cover these topics. I started contributing to ePluribus Media because I am very interested in the impact of citizen journalism on the present political discourse.

Interview with Marisa Trevino by Angie Bado

Marisa Trevino has years of experience as an opinion journalist, not only in the U.S., but in such places as India and Spain. I have no journalism experience and it was fascinating to hear her thoughts on where she thinks journalism is headed.

Marisa stated several times that, “We need to look for new ways to define journalism. The old terminology confines us.” For example, she fully embraces the term “news media” instead of newspaper. She has met with publishers of newspapers all around the word and has often seen that there is no longer the separation of the business side and the news side. Many larger newspapers are incorporating this philosophy in order to cut costs and this is certainly the case in many of the small market papers and online news venues.

She soft launched Latina Lista in May and her strategy is to syndicate it to other news media outlets which reach a large Hispanic population, as well as to duplicate it on a local level, featuring local bloggers who can raise issues that are relevant to their cities. Blogging on a global and national level will afford her the opportunity to attract advertisers who will find a very large readership attractive. We both agreed that blogging allows us to glean ideas for stories and connects those in our community to us as a news outlet and to each other.

Marisa believes the journalism of the future will be based on content and convenience. In tracking trends, it is clear that our audience wants convenience – easy access to news from PDA’s, phones, etc. We need to find ways to deliver content creatively. To this note, Marisa feels that her strength is thinking outside the box and coming up with new angles to approach problems. It is important to create loyalty for news entities by giving readers an emotional connection to the news site. I also feel that the emotional connection is an important component. Content can drive loyalty and that emotional connection. We can fulfill the basic needs of readers through our delivery – making it convenient.

Gabriella Meerbach and Stephen Silha

Gabriella Meerbach believes that active listening is key to journalism surviving and thriving in the future. Media people need to mediate between top-down information and bottom-up process. Explaining, synthesizing, and packaging will become the critical skills for media folk – along with the more traditional roles of watchdog, reporter, fact-checker.

People are ready to have their voices heard, to create media. She’s seen this firsthand in her work in Africa, observing elections in Senegal and helping to create a network of community radio. She’s also trained a generation of Dutch journalists, exposing them to global and intercultural issues. Now, she believes, we need to think about training (and working with) the group formerly known as the audience. How can we use the knowledge, background, and stories that aren’t now visible? And what’s the link between journalism and quality of community life?

Wikipedia is a model for what a future, citizen interactive, journalism might look like. And of course, it raises questions about vetting, and the importance of the editorial function.

Stephen Silha pleads that new media should not just help the average citizens with the information overload, but give them a voice to tell their own, personal story. Stephen strives for more holistic ways in telling and sharing complex stories. Once he made a communication piece about the development of an AIDS hospice, some 15 years ago. He made the initiators of the nursing house tell why and how they built it up. The strong opposition in the neigbourhood was turned down thanks to the story, the work is still going on and the house is one of the best in the State of Washington.

Journalism dead? No! Stephen believes strongly in the potentials of cooperation with young people, both traditional journalism students and the general public. And we should be thinking about the future of journalism in more creative ways: "Look what has been done to local quality of life. We shy away from being leaders, from reporting the details that matter for a better life, such as health issues, environment, historical reflection upon decision making."

We had a lively chat about the sea changes we both feel, and look forward to engaging with an extraordinary group of thinkers, teachers, and do-ers in Washington.

Interview with John Hamer by Doug Thompson

In 1996, Seattle Times publisher Frank Blethen got mad at his neighbor’s dog and shot the animal with a pellet gun.

The assault on a pet might by the feisty newspaper publisher might have gone unnoticed. The Times certainly wasn’t covering a story about its publisher getting into trouble but former Times staffer turned media watchdog John Hamer went after the story for Seattle Weekly and turned it into a cause. Blethen was charged and cut a deal that included performing community service at the animal shelter and paying the vet bills for the dog.

It remains today one of Hamer’s most memorable accomplishments and an example that proves an individual can produce solid investigative reporting without a media machine behind him. It also held abuse of power by a powerful media figure up for for public examination. Such memories drive his passion as executive director of the Washington News Council.

“We try to be a watchdog because our profession, as a rule, does a lousy job of watching itself,” Hamer said in an interview.

Founded in 1999, largely with a grant from Bill & Melinda Gates, the Washington News Council has struggled financially but thrived editorially with a solid record of taking a hard look at the state of journalism in Washington. In May, the council released: REPORTING ON YOURSELF: An Independent Analysis of The Spokesman-Review’s Coverage of and Role in the Spokane River Park Square Redevelopment Project. The report was a candid examination of the newspaper’s role in covering a story on property it owned.

This weekend, Hamer huddled with his board at a retreat to look at the state of one of the few statewide media watchdog groups in the country. Going into the retreat he wasn’t sure about the future.

“That’s one of the questions we have to address,” Hamer said. “Have we fulfilled out goals or have we outlived our usefulness?”

Questions that also surround newspapers and other forms of traditional media in today’s Internet and multi-media driven communications environment. Questions which Hamer hopes can be addressed and perhaps answered at Media Giraff’s August gathering in Washington.

“It’s safe to say our profession is in a state of flux,” Hamer says. “Some newspapers have been quick to adapt. Others have not.”

If the News Council continues Hamer wants to expand the organization’s web site which he calls “basic and not very good. We need a young hotshot to turn it into something that utilizes all the Web has to offer.”

As for 10 years into the future, Hamer laughs.

“The technology and capabilities are moving so fast it is difficult to project 10 days or 10 months into the future, much less 10 years,” he says. “Your guess is as good as mine.”

Interview with Brant Houston by Dan Gillmor

The work of many years came together for Brant Houston after the recent bridge collapse in Minneapolis.

"From the data library at Investigative Reporters and Editors and the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting, we distributed federal bridge safety data to more than 150 news organizations across the country in less than 24 hours and we helped journalists analyze and make sense of the data to see what potentially dangerous bridges were in their communities," he said.

"There has never been an effort like this before to serve citizens and the data analysis and follow-up interviews resulted in Web pages multi-media presentations including text, graphics, interactive maps and ways for citizens to comment and respond."

For two decades Brant has been training journalists to be investigative reporters and to understand how technology can help create better journalism. Now headed to Illinois to take over a Knight Chair in investigative reporting, he's convinced journalism has a great future "if it becomes more aggressive in using all the tools of the Web in combination with social science methods and traditional journalistic skepticism and more presence in the community itself, both online and offline."

Interview with Dan Gillmor by Brant Houston

Dan and I have known each other for more than decade. Our paths have intersected many times including the first computer-assisted reporting conference I ran in 1994 to the years in the late 90s of the NetMedia conferences in London to our recent discussions on citizen involvement in journalism following the publication of his book, "We the Media." I especially appreciated Dan's emphasis on maintaining journalistic standards of accuracy, transparency, and independence to in turn maintain credibility in the new media world. We emailed back and forth and then had a conversation. From Dan: "The overall story I've worked on in the past few years is the shift in media from a lecture to conversation. I can't think of anything that has had more impact on media, and potentially on democratic self-rule, than that. I've tried in recent years to help professional journalists realize that they are part of that conversation. And I've tried to help the people who were once just an audience to realize they are part of that conversation --and that they can be the media creators themselves." He said it was hard for him to pick one thing that "the new ecosystem" had helped in his work since its the focus of his recent work. But he said the process worked well when he posted a book outline and chapter drafts online and "got tremendous help in making it a better book." As for preparing the next generation, he said, "We need to turn media literacy into a core mission for parents, teachers andmedia organizations" and pointed to a recent blog posting in which he said, "When people are creators of media, not just consumers, the task is more complex but more important than ever. Think of media literacy in terms of principles, not a bunch of specific must-do kinds of instructions..." Dan included these principles: Be skeptical. Use an internal trust meter. Learn media techniques. Keep reporting. Thoroughness. Accuracy. Fairness. Independence. Transparency. As for the future, Dan said, "The ecosystem will be more rich and diverse. But I'm not smart enough to tell you what it will specifically look like technologically or socially,because some of the changes will be unexpected. There is every possibility, incidentally, that free speech and low barrier to entry will have beensubstantially curtailed by then, via a combination of overt and subtle governmental and corporate power. This is a much bigger threat than most people seem to appreciate at this point."

Interview with Krishna Prasad by Andrea Breemer Frantz

Krishna Prasad and I had an interesting challenge with our “interview” in that he and I live on opposite sides of the world from one another—literally. Because of the 10-hour time difference, we opted to conduct out interview in a way that I preach to my students not to do—I asked him questions via e-mail. Despite the fact that I know this was somewhat limiting, Krishna answered my questions with depth and detail, and I found the interview enlightening.

Krishna has been a journalist in India for 20 years. He noted, “I got into journalism like most people partly due to a passion for the word, but largely due to a desire to do something---anything---to make our community and country better. To me it seemed magical that while all the pillars of our democracy and all the other professions had strictly defined boundaries, journalism did not.” In this answer I found a kindred spirit, despite the fact that we came from very different backgrounds—Krishna from India, and me from Iowa.

Krishna is editor and publisher of http://www.churumuri.com/, an internationally read issues-oriented news and blog site. I explored the site to familiarize myself with its content and found it fascinating. It’s tough to categorize the publication in that it offers something for everyone—stories and links to sports happenings, entertainment venues, political blogs, and community news, to name a few. His ability to “make the important interesting” through his publication is one of the key things Krishna brings to JTM, alongside his international perspective.

Finally, Krishna Prasad offers an important perspective to JTM as a publisher with vision for change in the field of journalism. He notes, “New emerging platforms are filling a vital blank the mainstream corporate media have left…And newsroom leaders need to constantly prime and push young journalists in this direction.”

I look forward to meeting him face to face.

Paul Janensch & Josh Wilson interview each other

Pairing new media guy Josh Wilson with old media guy Paul Janensch was fortuitous. As Josh and Paul conversed by e-mal and on the telephone, they discovered that they have a mutual respect for each other's media orientation and agree on basic values but disagree on the way tomorrow's journalism will be practiced.

They also realized that ideas about "old" and "new" media are not set in stone. Josh considers himself an "old media" person who views new media technology as another tool for reporting. Paul notes that Josh's lifelong familiarity with computer technology makes him a "new media" person whether he likes it or not

Paul, 68, teaches journalism at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut and comments on the news media for the Connecticut Post (http://www.connpost.com/pauljanensch) of Bridgeport and the five stations of WNPR Connecticut Public Radio Connecticut Public Radio/WNPR (http://www.wnpr.org/). Look for his audio comments by clicking on "News" and then "Commentary" starting on the WNPR home page. He was the top editor of The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky., the Rockland Journal News in Nyack, N.Y., and the Telegram & Gazette in Worcester, Mass. His e-mail address is paul.janensch -AT- quinnipiac.edu. He does not have a blog.

Josh, 39, a San Francisco journalist, is the founder of Newsdesk.org, a nonprofit, commercial free news project. He is a co-founder of Independent Arts & Media, a free speech/civil-society nonprofit that expands civic dialogue by increasing access to independent voices. He has done print and online work for SFGate.com, the San Jose Mercury News, Wired Magazine and the Meredith Corp. His e-mail address is edit -AT- artsandmedia.net; he also recently started the blog Illuminated Media (http://www.illuminated-media.org).

Josh and Paul agree that both new and old media can learn from each other. From the new media, the old media can learn to be more nimble, more innovative and more personal. From the old, the new can learn to be more disciplined, more careful and to do a better job of planning and following up.

Quote from Josh: "For all the good reporting out there (in the old media), there's a lot more that's overlooked or undeveloped. Bringing that to light seems like an important goal for any journalist or publisher concerned with providing value to his or her community."

Both are pleased that the old media and the new media are working more closely together. The best of the old media, such as major newspapers and network television news, have sophisticated (and popular) Internet sites. The new conventional wisdom seems to be that a successful news organization must provide information on a variety of platforms. But they are disappointed that generally the old media's interactive sites are really extensions of the traditional product, rather than true partners.

Quote from Paul: "I have seen few break-through presentation of a Big Story, in which traditional and new platforms complement one another, not just convey the same information in different formats." He added this comment after seeing coverage of the Minneapolis bridge disaster: "The way old media and their new media sites added value on this major story by working as partners was most impressive."

Both Josh and Paul subscribe to the traditional values of journalism -- be accurate, fair, clear, timely and interesting.

Josh thinks old media have too much of a Pollyanna attitude about new media technology -- that if only they can apply the technology correctly, all the problems of the current media economy will be solved. This, he says, ignores deeper problems with both the current for-profit business model, which demands unrealistic profit margins, and also biases news coverage away from working-class issues to appease advertisers seeking access to upscale audiences.

Paul thinks the new media could be more consistent in verifying information, not just repeating it, and that until it improves its journalism methodology, it risks its credibility and also limits its potential as a source of news and information.

As for the future, Paul expects the typical journalist to be comfortable presenting the news on various platforms - print, radio, video and interactive - and not be restricted to newspapers, television or whatever. He assumes that most news organizations still will be owned by large, profit-making companies. He hopes they will be satisfied with an annual return of "only" 15-20 percent, which is substantial in virtually every business sector outside of the media.

Josh has a more idealistic vision in which nonprofit, commercial-free news outlets complement and compete with those that are for-profit. He wants to see a decentralized newsroom in which "reporters and editors share responsibility and set their own news agendas based on their professional judgment, rather than in response to the profit demands of the publishers and shareholders." Revenue would come from syndication of their work and from users and supporters - "a sort of hybrid of newspaper subscribers and public radio donors."

Exchange between Jessica Clark and Ed Carter

editor at the progressive In These Times magazine, Jessica Clark has helped to map and bring together a coalition of independent media organizations. One outcome, The Media Consortium (see http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/2687/) has the stated goal “to develop a sustainable progressive media infrastructure that can inform and influence public opinion, encourage grassroots action and create political change.”

In order to accomplish this goal, the media organizations committed to support one another, focus on journalism and take advantage of technology to reach audiences and make a difference. Clark, now an editor-at-large for In These Times and the research director at American University’s Center for Social Media (http://www.centerforsocialmedia.org), says digital technology has aided progressive journalism organizations in locating and collaborating with one another.

Clark is currently working with her former publisher on a book designed to build an “impact model” for news stories –- a way for media organizations to be sure their stories actually make a difference and then measure the change brought about.

One of the things Clark sees working well in the new media ecosystem is fact-checking. For certain issues in certain stories, this means that sources of information may be given the opportunity to verify quotes or other pieces of information before publication. Clark says media consumers and sources realize that facts can be cherry-picked. Journalists must realize that they do not necessarily have a corner on the market when it comes to all truth. Clark sees a growing “negotiability” over stories; they don’t necessarily end with the last word a reporter writes because readers today want to interact with writers; writers in turn may learn additional things about the story from those readers.

With an MSJ from Northwestern and several years of daily journalism experience, Brigham Young University Assistant Professor of Communications Ed Carter understands the rules and routines of reporting. However, his law degree and subsequent practice have also given him an appreciation of working within, rather than outside of a story. In traditional journalism, he says, you’re “not in the middle of the action making a difference”

Carter sees the briefs that he writes while representing immigrants in the Circuit Court of Appeals as a form of storytelling, albeit one for a small and expert audience. He uses his journalism experience to serve as a news source for his clients, who are facing their last chance to make their cases. Carter is also helping reporters in Utah to fight for the right to protect their sources. The state has no shield law, so he has been working with others to lobby for a change in the law. Having himself been subpoenaed as a reporter, he understands the importance of confidentiality.

Carter believes that, in general, the relationship between sources and reporters should be more open. He also suggests that experts can often report more effectively than journalists, noting that he reads a number of high-quality legal blogs. “You have to bring something more than the ability to write and ask questions,” Carter says. “As we continue to have more niche publications, that’s increasing.”

Nonetheless, he still thinks that rising journalists need to be taught the nuts and bolts of the trade, as well as being encouraged to take risks. Too often, Carter notes, young reporters follow the lead of editors who are most concerned with pushing stories to the front page. This leads to “distortion in news coverage,” he says, adding that he tells his own students “to be stronger and to stand up.”

Exchange between Jim Shaffer and Beth Lawton


Sorry I couldn't call earlier this afternoon.

I did, though, want to get you the answers to those questions we were supposed to answer. Here goes. Please write back with yours -- or, I can call you early tomorrow morning when I get into the office.

Here goes:

1. A Story That Mattered


A lot of stories "matter" -- the question is more "to whom"? So this story may not "matter" in the big sense (it's not about Iraq or the budget deficit or the environment), but it really struck a chord with the small community it covered. It struck a sour note with me, too.

I started out in community journalism -- at a weekly newspaper (formerly) owned by Pulitzer, Inc. in suburban St. Louis. I was covering crimes, fires, education (everything from board meetings to features about kindergarten projects), community stories (playgrounds, personality profiles), city councils, budgets -- you name it.

One of the stories I covered that year was about a small town that, for better or worse, declared several blocks "blighted" (debatable) and decided to put in a grocery store on that land through eminent domain and tax-increment financing. The homeowners, of course, clamored to save their small, 1940s-era homes. The battle went on for months through petitions, city council meetings, etc.

Of course, the city won. But the one story in this long series of neighborhood-focused articles that really stuck out in my own mind (and in a lot of other people's) was the "groundbreaking."

On a warm summer morning, instead of a traditional ribbon-cutting ceremony with oversized scissors or a groundbreaking ceremony with city council members turning over some dirt with shovels, the city council decided to get creative: To "break ground," the city administrator got in a piece of construction equipment and put a wrecking ball through someone's home.


One of the many stories that mattered for me resulted from a major discussion within the Guy Gannett organization with regard to how much the Portland Press-Herald was willing to be an activist for change - while keeping the appropriate boundaries between reporting and opinion. Maine had a major problem with the workers' compensation environment, which in the late '80's and early '90's was dominated by lawyers that profited from conflict, rather than doctors that wanted to heal humans, or workers, who needed time off to heal. As a result, Maine was one of the worst states for manufacturing businesses, resulting in job losses AND high injury rates. Lou Ureneck, the editor, had thought deeply about journalism as objective observers versus journalism as responsible agents for change, and Lou proposed a series of explanatory articles, tied with editorials recommending various reforms, including a Blue Ribbon study commission. The effort rocked boats. I took a lot of heat in the process of protecting our journalists, and they took a lot of heat in the form of accusations of crossing the time-honored boundaries. But, in short, it all worked. After MUCH consternation and journalistic effort, Maine reformed its workers comp system, and the result was more jobs and fewer injuries. The world was better off for our efforts and we had learned about how to do ... Journalism That Matters.

2. Your Greatest Contribution: Without being humble, what do you value most about yourself as a contributor to great journalism? What gifts do you see yourself bringing to this meeting?


Not sure if this is or will be my greatest contribution, but... I think I'm good at listening and synthesizing information into actionable chunks. I'm a planner in the practical sense -- coordinating people, timelines, etc. I enjoy crossing things off lists and working with tangible, results-oriented projects.


Well, I (think I) thoroughly understand the economics and market relationships of journalism, and I hope that will help me to inject some business insight and reality to our visions for the future. I also have some perspectives about adaptive leadership that I hope might be helpful.

Perhaps unfortunately, I foresaw today's decline of ad-supported media/journalism. Now I hope I can help us foresee new models of supporting journalism.

3. What's working in the new ecosystem?


At least we're starting to experiment! I work with newspapers, which have traditionally been risk-averse and slow to change in culture. My role with the Newspaper Association of America has been largely research and case-studies oriented (meaning I'm trying to help get out information about best practices, experiments, etc. from within the newspaper industry). What we're finding more and more is that the digital departments at newspaper companies are starting to say "Let's try it!" That's a huge step in the right direction.

That step is resulting in a wealth of knowledge based on lessons-learned. Assignment Zero, which was a crowd-sourcing news project (with Jay Rosen's New Assignment and Wired magazine), may or may not have "worked" -- it's up for debate in the blogosphere. In the introduction to the published results of Assignment Zero, Jay Rosen wrote, "We know a lot more about it now than we did when we started."

So, what's working in a nutshell is a change in attitude toward experimentation.

Because I'm on the "sidelines" as a cheerleader, researcher, evangelist for the newspaper industry (focus on "news", not on "paper"), I haven't been involved in much recent experimentation, but I'm following it closely. I think, at least with newspapers, we're still trying to hold onto the traditional roots of journalism (though what those are seems up for debate now, too), but we're more open to collaboration, experiments, technology, etc. These are all good things.


TOTALLY AGREE! Darwin is kind to a diverse species. The more we can experiment, the more we can learn and adapt and the greater our chances of survival. One of my mantras is to embrace failure, because we learn from failure. But, we need to "fail fast; fail cheap." And, learn fast.

4. 2017


I think -- I hope -- newspapers will become more business savvy, more open to new business models, lower profit margins and fewer silos. Part of the failure of the industry at this point is that we're too silo-ed -- the right hand doesn't always know what the left hand is doing. Separating sales/marketing from editorial has always been a tenet of journalism, but there are ways the two "sides" can synergize without completely knocking down the wall. I hope there's more cross-departmental collaboration, innovation and creativity.


Hmm. I suspect that by 2017, many news"papers" will be gone. But some will have done a decent job of morphing into new and sustainable forms of for-profit and non-profit business that sustain the journalistic values of today. I'd like to think that the value of journalism -- Disciplined tests of "truth;" a sense of balance in coverage and story selection; storytelling that engages people's minds, passions, and imaginations; and a commitment to the public good -- will be valued and continued via new forms of technology.

My greatest hope is that I can be part of this.

See you tomorrow!!


Beth Lawton Manager, Digital Media Newspaper Association of America

James B. Shaffer, Dean, School of Business, University of Southern Maine