Tag Archives: journalism

Asking “Who’s a journalist?” is so 2007

Dan Gillmor asks in a Salon piece, “Who’s a journalist?” Commenters are weighing in.

But Dan, please pardon me for this reaction.

This question is so 2007.

Howard Weaver raised it in his old blog, Etaoin Shrdlu, that year. I wrote a paper that year for a UNC class that addressed the question.

Why are we still dealing with it?

Perhaps the question still draws reaction because many journalists are finding that others are co-opting the name, or they’re unsure whether they can still use the label for themselves if they’re not getting paid by organizations anymore to do journalism.

Either way, the question resembles discussion of how many angels can fit on the head of a pin, and I’d love to see us move on to other questions.

How should society pay for journalism? What can we learn from history and current experiments like Spot.Us?

How can individuals finance their journalism? Which old ethical rules should we keep?

How can experienced journalists spread the ethics, values and ideals that are worth keeping to the new creators who call themselves journalists?

Is a sports marketing company that solicits and broadcasts high school football scores through text and Twitter a journalism company? Not unless they build a system that adds verification of the information, making it bulletproof from spammers and bots who will no doubt find it.

Is a site that scrapes content from local newspapers and repurposes it without attribution on “hyperlocal” WordPress blogs journalism? No, but how do you teach small local advertisers and readers to tell the difference?

Those are the questions that matter now. People describing themselves as journalists will be best judged by what they produce. Librarians and others working with academic papers are polishing systems that assign rankings to people based on their published works. Others like Spot.Us and Publish2 are experimenting with new funding models.

How can we make new forms work? Let’s get to it.

Move beyond 2007.

The local news and ad battle: A dispatch from the front

competition bike race photo

“As usual, competition lifts the whole game.’’
Rick Daniels, chief executive of GateHouse Media New England, talking about AOL Patch at Boston.com

Or maybe not.

Polly Kreisman, founder of The Loop in Westchester County, N.Y., has written a post over at Lost Remote about how AOL’s Patches are popping up in her territory. And she, as an embedded resident and journalist, is fighting back with her own site against all competitors.

AOL Patch is launching local news sites across the country, and it appears to be aiming at the same territory sought after by legacy media and other companies seeking local advertising dollars: well-off towns and suburbs. Those areas are filled with what Carll Tucker, the founder of Main Street Connect, calls “Main Street moms.”

Those moms are the economic engine of retail, Tucker says, and they draw advertising that supports media. If you’ve had children or have them now, you know it’s true: No matter your best intentions, you accumulate and consume lots of stuff. Retailers and their ads love you.

I’ve seen this kind of hyper-competition for ads in the past, and in some markets, it continues in print to this day. I worked at a newspaper when large news companies tried to knock out suburban competitors by pouring in tons of resources to local news (and I still work in niche local news at a newspaper now.)

We swapped ‘til we dropped, adding lots of weight in our news judgment to local datelines. The editor and the publisher delivered newspapers personally. The local papers responded by accusing us of being out-of-town carpetbaggers.

So we have been through local advertising battles before, and the local news competition fueled by it. I’m hoping that we’ve learned enough, this time, not to waste precious resources.

I was lucky to meet Polly in person at the Knight Digital Media Center’s news entrepreneur boot camp in May, and I wouldn’t want to tangle with her in a business fight. She has the commitment and courage to fight for her local news site, The Loop.

But I wish it wasn’t a fight.

Journalists have long sought work in towns with news competition, because resources pour in. And competition makes us all better at our craft. Many journalists pour their souls and lives into the battle, working 70-hour weeks for little pay, without the time to lift their heads and find a better, sustainable way.

But I worry about the journalists long term, and about the many different kinds of businesses and organizations fighting over one small piece of the market: the Main Street mom, leaving many in society without adequate news sources while news organizations bleed money into certain ZIP codes.

I wish news organizations of all kinds could find ways to spread resources and not be dependent solely on advertising, so that people in markets that are less attractive to advertisers could get the information they need.

And I wish the journalists in those markets could lift their heads and see the long view and perhaps find ways to make sustainable commitments to local news.

People like Polly don’t just face competition for local ad dollars from Patch and Main Street Media.

Competitors include sites run by visitors bureaus that sell ads and are financed by government taxes paid on hotel rooms.
Competitors include sites that offer shopping deals, unbundled from news or information beyond press releases.
Competition comes from new niche experiments or recommitments from national legacy media companies (raises hand).
Competition comes from local television websites, using people far away to take phones calls placing ads from local businesses, meanwhile cranking out stories based on datelines, swapping ‘til they drop.

The pie, based on local advertising dollars just isn’t big enough. So the competition becomes a fight unto death. And I suspect tons of local advertisers still aren’t being served well.

That other customer, the reader?

If they live in a ZIP code sought after by a retailer, they might have some options for local news. If they live elsewhere, though, they might be stuck in a local news desert.

We have to find better ways to work together and to finance news and information. I think it’s way too early to vilify Patch, or Main Street Media, or the other big competitors. They’re putting journalists to work, and maybe they’ll find business models and serve readers and advertisers well.

And maybe, just maybe, we can think long term, to find sustainable ways to deliver local news to everyone.

Hard times working the Patch

The Jersey Tomato Press on Patch

Leaders of AOL Patch and Main Street Connect talk at MediaShift

Photo credit: tj.blackwell, licensed through Creative Commons

The UNC-TV disclaimer on a reporter’s work about Alcoa

UNC-TV disclaimer on reporter's work about Alcoa

UNC-TV disclaimer on reporter's work about Alcoa

UNC-TV disclaimer2 on reporter's work about Alcoa

UNC-TV disclaimer2 on reporter's work about Alcoa

Here’s the disclaimer that ran on parts 2 and 3 of reporter Eszter Vajda’s series about Alcoa on UNC-TV.

Here’s background.

Alcoa files public records request for public TV reporter’s unedited work

A view of Badin Lake from a back yard along its banks. The lake was created by Alcoa in 1917.

A view of Badin Lake from a back yard along its banks. The lake was created by Alcoa in 1917.

The next step in the Alcoa and UNC-TV saga became clear in a post by UNC public radio reporter Laura Leslie on Friday.

Alcoa wants to see all of the UNC TV reporter’s work.

UNC-TV recently complied with a subpoena from a legislative committee to share unaired footage from a story about Alcoa, an aluminum company that owns and operates dams along the Yadkin River and Badin Lake in North Carolina. The committee was pushing a bill to create a trust that could assume ownership of Alcoa’s assets along the river and lake. It settled for passage of a bill that created the Uwharrie Resources Commission, which can file lawsuits and lease or own property.

Immediately after the subpoena, the public TV station rushed onto the air a three-part report about environmental issues for plant workers and for surrounding land, along with a disclaimer saying the report was aired without its usual customary editorial review.

Leslie quotes the letter from Alcoa:

“Given the story’s inherent bias, the inclusion of undocumented claims against Alcoa, the fact that the segment aired with a disclaimer at the beginning and end acknowledging that for the first time ever the station abandoned its customary editorial review process, along with UNC-TV’s decision to permit Sen. Fletcher Hartsell to use its unpublished video as a blatant political tool, we want to learn more about how this story was developed and who influenced the content.”

Related: A lovely end-of-session note from UNC public radio’s Laura Leslie, paying tribute to her dwindling state-government reporting colleagues and giving credit to Twitter for helping the smaller cadre of reporters collaborate. It’s definitely worth a read and some thought on the future of reporting on N.C. state government.

Photo credit: Jack Lail, via Flickr.

Big hat tip to @binker, a statehouse reporter for the Greensboro News and Record, for rounding up reporters’ posts about the end of the session.

Also related:
Opinion from The Charlotte Observer’s Jack Betts: Where’s the bravery from UNC officials?
Raleigh News and Observer story on the public records request.
Background on possible utility companies interested in operating Alcoa’s dams from the Charlotte Business Journal

N.C. general assembly gives green light to social enterprises as for-profit businesses

A bill that makes it easier for companies to get investments from private foundations passed the N.C. House on Friday and is expected to be signed by the governor.

It allows private foundations to give low-interest loans to L3Cs, or low-profit companies. The bill, S308, passed the N.C. Senate last year.

The new law has been envisioned by some as a way to boost domestic manufacturing like furniture making, and some see it as a way to save journalism or bolster news organizations.

It allows for-profit businesses to be organized to serve primarily charitable purposes. In the United Kingdom, they’ve been called profit-for-purpose businesses. One UK business, People-Centered Economic Development, was conceptualized in Chapel Hill in 1997.

Fast Company has quoted a foundation executive as describing the companies as for-profits with a nonprofit soul.

The Point Reyes Light weekly newspaper in California has been incorporated as an L3C under Vermont’s law.

The business model has been tossed around for symphonies, museums, yoga studios, family farm cooperatives and much more than just news organizations. Wikipedia explains better than I can.

Lots of background:
Davidson County Dispatch news story on the bill passage.
Sally Duros in The Huffington Post on L3Cs and how to save newspapers.
Save The News on L3Cs for news organizations.
Amy Gahran on L3Cs for news organizations.
Lydia Dishman in Fast Company describes L3Cs.

Big hat tip to @saduros on Twitter.

News aggregation isn’t just for big national companies: One Charlotte marketer’s effort

The charlotteareanews.com website

Charlotte Area News aggregator, from a Charlotte marketer

Local news creators have long had odd relationships with aggregators, who live off other people’s content but can drive some traffic back to the creators. The tension has often been framed as “local” versus “big national” companies.

But Buck Lawrimore, a longtime marketer in the Charlotte area, shows that the local versus national frame isn’t always valid. He has created Charlotte Area News, with some pages marked for niche local coverage at some point. Revenue appears to depend only on Google Ads, and content depends only on established media sources, available elsewhere.

The barriers to entry into this space are low: RSS feeds and freely available tools make setting up such a site fairly easy. In that respect, sites with successful business models will add value that no one else can: proper curation, care and feeding.

As one of the speakers at a news entrepreneur bootcamp at the Knight Digital Media Center said: After you create your business idea, build a moat. Your low barriers of entry will also be low barriers for competitors. Added value will ensure business success.

It’ll be interesting to watch the next moves in this space, and I’d love to see examples of other local sites across the country that do the same as Lawrimore’s. The Digitel in Charleston, a blended aggregator/creator, is on my radar. Also Chattarati, in Chattanooga, Tenn., from the ground up. Anyone else? Didn’t Asheville have an automated aggregator at one point? Is it still around?

Edupunks or the new schools?

Dandelion weeds

Dandelion weeds

Here are links to go with a presentation that looks at open education outside traditional institutions. The work was gathered for a class through Peer 2 Peer University, on digital journalism, taught remotely by Joi Ito, in the summer of 2010.

I dug into the subject after making a proposal to the Knight News Challenge for an open journalism class and pitching the idea at the Knight Digital Media Center’s news entrepreneur bootcamp in May 2010.

You can read more about that idea and free online journalism classes at a post by me at PBS MediaShift.

You can also see on Scribd one of the presentations created by a group of students in the class, covering the class.

On to links, many pointing to sites in the slides:
Peer 2 Peer U
Hacks and Hackers
Mozilla Drumbeat and P2PU
Amazon site for “DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education
Open Study
List of similar endeavors to P2PU, compiled by P2PU’s Michel Bauwens.
Michel Bauwens’ Delicious links on learning.
My Delicious online learning links

UNC-TV turns over footage to comply with subpoena

Badin Lake in North Carolina

Badin Lake in North Carolina

UNC-TV has turned over unaired footage from reporting about Alcoa and the Yadkin River and its lakes to a state legislative committee to comply with a subpoena, according to WRAL.

Generally, journalists and their organizations in North Carolina have been protected from turning over unpublished material because of “shield laws.” In this case, UNC-TV’s lawyers said they were unsure whether the state shield laws would apply to an organization that falls under state control.

“We understand that there are those who will disagree with our decision, but given the legal uncertainty as to the application of the press shield law to UNC-TV, and because of the fact that UNC-TV is a state entity, we believe we have responded to this difficult situation in a manner that is legal, ethical and responsible,” said UNC-TV spokesman Steve Volstad.

Given some discussion for increased government spending and focus on public media, the event raises some intriguing questions.

Will sources feel comfortable talking with reporters for media under state or federal control, knowing all their information might be turned over to government agencies?

Should public media be structured in such a way that it does not fall under government control? UNC-TV employees are state employees and compelled by law to share requested information with the state legislature.

How can societies prevent state-run media from just becoming an investigative arm of government?

What journalists can and should do now: Read, bookmark and learn your states’ shield laws. The Reporters’ Committee for a Free Press has a shield-law guide.

Tuesday morning update from Observer associate editor Jack Betts, based in Raleigh. Includes a longer statement from UNC TV spokesman Steve Volstad.
Opinion from Jack Betts
Archives from the Raleigh News and Observer on Alcoa
Capitol Beat, the association of capitol reporters and editors, sends official letter objecting to subpoena.
Carolina Journal, the monthly newspaper of the John Locke Foundation, on the issue.

Photo credit: Jack Lail, licensed under Creative Commons. Badin Lake was created in 1917 by Alcoa.

Connecting the world and strengthening international reporting, through an online journalism class

Classmates Richard Smart (@Tokyorich) and Rick Martin (@1rick) collaborated on multimedia coverage of a protest in Shinjuku, Japan, against U.S. military bases on the Fourth of July. The work was part of an assignment in online journalism for a class at Peer 2 Peer University.

As the United States celebrated its birthday with parades, fireworks and the honoring of fallen soldiers, seeing a protest against U.S. military presence in other sovereign countries added rich perspective.

I would have had no idea about the protest without the classmates’ coverage. In that respect, the power of a global journalism class is remarkable.

About torture: Our words shape our world, and courage comes from unexpected places

Many people have been talking about the legacy media’s lack of using the word “torture” in recent years.

As we celebrate our country’s independence on a Sunday, I’m reminded of a brave sermon on torture from 2006, during the height of silence.

Courage comes from unlikely places. Or perhaps not.