Monthly Archives: October 2007

Each one teach one: Journalism hope or fear?

Advancements in media technologies have given society new ways to analyze and share information quickly across the globe. But changes in technology, business and governments have made funding the gathering, analysis and sharing of the information problematic.

The problem is analogous to issues in health care: scientists and researchers have developed new tools to fight disease and diagnose health problems, but the costs of paying for and distributing those developments have put their use out of the reach of the average person across the world.

Similarly, changes in the business model for many traditional news-gathering organizations have made analysis and delivery of quality information difficult. Consumers of that information expect it to be free, and they want to be entertained at the same time.

Consumers don’t have to rely solely on traditional media anymore for information, and that’s a good development. But new alternative voices bubbling up from “citizen journalists” lack traditional journalism training and also face the same funding questions that traditional media face.

New funding sources and methods have to be found to get the technology and massive amounts of data into the hands of average citizens in a way that can be useful. At the same time, the valuable, traditional journalism ethics need to be spread to a wider range of voices to ensure quality journalism in the future.

I’m part of the “traditional media,” on the young side of the Baby Boom generation, a group of people who never thought they’d be considered “traditional.” As a group, we’re slowly beginning to adopt the new ideas that entrepreneurs have developed. But years of habit and corporate ownership slow us down. We fear our jobs won’t last until we can retire, and we fear that the future of journalism is threatened, and thus one foundation of democracy could crumble ( Bill Moyers). Some journalists of my generation are moving into new media, but funding remains an issue ( David Boraks).

Here are some major factors to consider:
1. Many traditional media have been slow to adopt new technologies that allow increased engagement from readers and the integration of visual storytelling online. Corporate culture makes it difficult to adapt quickly.
2. Demographics contribute to change — or the lack of change — in the industry. Many newsrooms in the United States are dominated by Baby Boomers, a unique generation of journalists inspired by Watergate o enter an industry they hoped would change the world ( American Journalism Review.) Money was not their prime motivator, but many counted on the industry to provide a living to support families. These boomers are nearing retirement. The values, skills and approaches of new workers will be different.
3. Education of journalists across the world is evolving at an uneven pace, depending on technology access, the institutions’ ability to embrace change and often, the awareness of individual teachers. Technology’s rapid change makes it hard to keep up.
4. Heavy consumption of infotainment skews coverage across the world. Internet users surfing at lunch hit sites with celebrity and sports news, or bizarre stories with little lasting impact. U.S. media dependent on increasing traffic to increase revenue change their mix to satisfy consumers’ cravings, and international consumers of Western media get a distorted picture of a country that seems obsessed with teen idols and celebrity sports stars.

Amid despair and fear, hope sometimes emerges. The 2008 presidential elections in the United States promise increased creativity and increased attention on civic affairs from a new generation. The Baby Boom echo, which grew up with technology, is coming of age and will change our institutions in surprising ways. Foundations and colleges are finding ways to fund new media experiments ( Idea Lab). Technology leaders, new and old, are showing an increased interest in the importance of journalism to society ( Craig Newmark).

And so it goes. See separate “Each one teach one” posts for fears, recommendations and online resources.

Each one teach one: six online resources

(Some of these sites might have been listed in my original research proposal; some are new.)

1. American Journalism Review’s article by Paul Farhi, titled “Under Siege,” from March 2006. As a longer, broader look, this magazine has written in depth about media organizations for some time. The national magazine is published by the University of Maryland Foundation with offices in the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland. Its archives are open, and illuminating, showing that uncertainty and churn in staffing have affected journalism organizations since the early 1990s, at least.
2. The Center for Independent Media, a nonprofit organization that seeks to foster diversity of ideas by training people on the use of new communications technologies as an alternative publishing and distribution system. The site links to local sites like Minnesota Monitor, leading by example and also providing news that might not be found elsewhere.
3. Doc Searls’ weblog, an odd mix of media analysis, travel blog and introspection, by the write of “The Cluetrain Manifesto” in 1999, a book with recommendations about how businesses needed to respond to the new wired world. Searls includes interesting links and “rabbit-trail” ruminations.
4. MediaShift Idea Lab, a group weblog by people working to reinvent community news. Each author won a grant in the Knight News Challenge to help fund a startup idea or to blog on a topic related to reshaping community news. The site will continue to get deeper as the experiments continue; of particular note are postings by Chris O’Brien, who is working to reinvent student reporting at Duke’s newspaper and who is finding similar attitudes among students to those that Amanda Toler has posted about in class. Another “Don’t miss:” Dianne Lynch, working with journalism educators at several schools to reinvent journalism education.
5. Local Journalism: Grassroots Journalism Sharing, a forum and grouping of blogs to discuss how to be sustainable in local online journalism, created by K. Paul Mallasch, who started the Muncie Free Press a couple of years ago and has kept it alive. The forums seem small at the moment, but we’ll see what time holds.
6. Paul Saffo’s website. Saffo is a “futurist,” one who envisions the future, with over two decades experience exploring long-term technological change. He teaches at Stanford University. He has served as an adviser and Forum Fellow to the World Economic Forum, and is a Fellow of the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences. His essays have appeared in The Harvard Business Review, Fortune, Wired, The Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, The New York Times and the Washington Post. He holds degrees from Harvard College, Cambridge University, and Stanford University. He wrote this essay in 2002, with a great many parallels to today’s business climate.

Each one teach one: three sensible recommendations

Changes in technology, business and governments have made funding the gathering, analysis and sharing of news and information problematic. The situation can make journalists see-saw from despair to hope.
Three recommendations for sensible solutions:
1. Keep finding new, fair ways to sustain quality reporting and presentation.
2. Keep asking questions, and try to find ways to inspire new generations of journalists.
3. Keep learning.

Each one teach one: biggest fears

Advancements in media technologies have given society new ways to analyze and share information quickly across the globe. But changes in technology, business and governments have made funding the gathering, analysis and sharing of the information problematic.

My five biggest fears:
1. International professional, objective reporting will become unsustainable except for that from a handful of news organizations, minimizing citizens’ sources of information. Particularly, in-depth reporting on governments will become unsustainable, changing the balance of power between those governments and their citizens. New technology intended to filter the web for the good of society will instead be co-opted by some governments to stifle voices and access to sharing technologies. ( Open Net Initiative)
2. Local in-depth reporting will become rare and spotty, dependent on only a few reporters who can afford the research time within their news organizations. The need to target mass publications toward wealthier audiences will skew reporting to coverage of issues affecting those readers, taking away resources from coverage of issues affecting poorer audiences. Suburban zoning of newspapers, while sustaining those publications, could be a major factor.
3. Education, oversight and financial support of “citizen journalists” who can provide alternative ideas and points of view will also be spotty and rare. Successful online local sites like Baristanet will only have resources to cover routine, easily reportable subjects and will owe their livelihood to advertisers or sponsors who could hold great sway over the content of the sites.
4. The massive amount of data and opinion available with new technologies will obscure the holes in reporting and analysis of issues that affect average citizens, such as the increases in health insurance costs and higher education costs in the United States.
5. Honestly? I worry that all the jobs will disappear before I’m ready to retire.

Turning into pumpkins

pumpkinwall2.gif

UNC classmate Amanda Toler works with students at Duke, and she’s trying to use online methods to reach them. She created a few Facebook groups to promote study abroad programs after deciding email was not effective.

But she’s finding that students are dropping out of Facebook too. Another classmate, Joseph Recomendes, thinks students are breaking addiction. Under-30 classmate Jackie Barrientes expanded with a great quote: “As soon as I walked by a budget meeting at the Observer where editors had Facebook projected up on a wall, I knew it was the beginning of the end.”

In an online class discussion, Amanda speculated: “If they won’t check email and they’re dropping out of Facebook, where will I find them? The mall? The library? Actually conversing with each other face to face on campus? The possibilities are actually quite exciting.”

In my neighborhood, which is rapidly getting much hipper than I’ll ever be, event organizers are turning to deliberately low-tech flyers at restaurants and bars to promote pumpkin walls and anti-coal-plant meetings.

Media should remember: If we stalk people by following them to text messaging on their phones next, they’ll find another place to go. Too much quantity, too much advertising, too much spam, and people hit “delete.”

Photo by SAA circa 2006 in the Elizabeth neighborhood of Charlotte. Look closely for pumpkin pi jokes.

The semantic web in 1945

The war’s over. The physicists need something to do. Dr. Vannevar Bush has some ideas:

“The process of tying two items together is the important thing.
When the user is building a trail, he names it, inserts the name in his code book, and taps it out on his keyboard. Before him are the two items to be joined, projected onto adjacent viewing positions. At the bottom of each there are a number of blank code spaces, and a pointer is set to indicate one of these on each item. The user taps a single key, and the items are permanently joined. In each code space appears the code word….
Thereafter, at any time, when one of these items is in view, the other can be instantly recalled merely by tapping a button…. Moreover, when numerous items have been thus joined together to form a trail, they can be reviewed in turn. … It is exactly as though the physical items had been gathered together from widely separated sources and bound together to form a new book. It is more than this, for any item can be joined into numerous trails.”
–From the July 1945 Atlantic magazine, found by classmate Gordon Wilkinson, who blogs here.

Generation Next: Passing the light

Elizabeth pumpkin wall.

The Great Pumpkin Wall will arise again soon in a neighborhood near me. Ruminations coming soon on how Truth — not truthiness — is important to the next generation of media consumers, globally and locally. Traditional media companies can be part of it, or not. Our choice.