Monthly Archives: August 2009

Lessons from Charlotte’s Web

In all the recent talk about news organizations’ “original sin,” this Steve Yelvington quote stands out: “Cox threw away much of what it had learned.”

Let’s not do it again.

The “original sin” meme going around is about “What did traditional news organizations do wrong?”

It’s often asked in a quest by those organizations to find a business model for the sharing of information.

I’d broaden the question, to how and why our society lost the concept of community information as a public good, instead of a private privilege, controlled and siloed by private industry.

Once upon a time in Charlotte, a news organization nurtured a small effort that grew into a big nonprofit project, Charlotte’s Web, funded by government grants, to connect community and share information.

Read some historical links at Innovate This to see how politics and funding affected the organization as it grew.

The history has pertinent lessons for nonprofits encouraging such information and community building online, as well as the journalists and other people associated with those projects.

And then send a good thought for Steve Snow, may he rest in peace. He was a community builder and information sharer, and remembering and learning from his efforts is important as we go forward.

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10 for #followwomenjournas

I don’t particularly like lists of people. Someone is always left out.

On top of that, I always wonder how the list will be used. Some journalists are particularly suspicious of lists because the weight of unwanted email or Twitter pitches weighs heavily on their minds. Yes, they want to interact with sources and readers, but they also must balance their lives.

Still, I love the effort by Kevin Sablan and others to list women journalists on Twitter, and the use of the #followwomenjournas hashtag. It raises the profile of some voices that easily can get lost in our society’s tendency for men to follow men, and women to follow men.

At the same time, I’m ambivalent about the idea of lumping women together in a separate category, marginalized on the side. I’m overcoming that feeling, because promotion of these women’s voices is necessary, still, in our society.

And I’m channeling some old lessons from designer and coach Monica Moses, who took the idea of marginalized people (in that case, long ago, newspaper designers), lumped them together and made them powerful when united.

And I’m making a list because from Twitter Day One For Me, in early 2008, I’ve made a conscious effort to keep my Twitter “Following” list diverse.
My initial list of women journalists was way too long, about 90 people, so I decided on 10 at this time, as a sort of #followfriday.

@anndosshelms (Ann Helms in Charlotte): Covers education for The Charlotte Observer. Reach her at ahelms@charlotteobserver.com
@AprilBethea (in Charlotte): Mecklenburg County government reporter at The Charlotte Observer. Would love to hear your ideas. Email her at abethea@charlotteobserver.com.
@CBJgreennews (Susan Stabley of the Charlotte Business Journal): Growth and Environment reporter for the Charlotte Business Journal. Tweets both live coverage augmented with context at Charlotte City Council meetings and almost never forgets a hashtag. Her secret: browser tabs, already open to the context.
@Celia Dyer (in Atlanta): Founder and Executive Producer of a blog (TechDrawl) about technology startups, licensed dentist, tech junky.
@DanaChinn (in Los Angeles): A journalism prof who’s convinced web analytics will save news organizations.
@EricaPerel (in Chapel Hill, adviser to Daily Tar Heel): She’s a mom, a journalist, a McClatchy survivor and now a journalism educator. She recently did a Q&A with Andy Bechtel.
@KaylaC (Kayla Castille in New Orleans): Managing editor of WDSU.com in New Orleans, news junkie, book lover, overall fangirl (formerly of Charlotte).
@LauraLeslie (Raleigh): Political reporter for N.C. Public Radio. Covered the N.C. General Assembly with tweets like the dew.
@Mallarytenore (in St. Pete): Journalist, The Poynter Institute. Did a thorough job writing about the newspaper columnist who tried to jump to public relations but goofed.
@Telie (Tannette Elie in Milwaukee/Chicago): Social media enthusiast, independent journalist, former Milwaukee Journal Sentinel business columnist and soon-to-be entrepreneur.

Paying for news in 2009

newspapersareforsale

The health of traditional media simmered under the surface at SoFresh, a new social-media marketing conference in Charlotte on Monday, as businesses studied strategies to spread their messages directly.

Interest in the business of journalism and news organizations goes far beyond news industry circles. Discussions have spilled into civic and business meetings as people try to figure out a new ecosystem for delivering messages.

In particular, the question of whether and how people should pay for online news has become quite heated. But if you only listen on Twitter to @jayrosen_nyu with more than 25,000 followers, and @jeffjarvis with just more than 24,000, your picture of the thinking in the industry will become skewed.

Using the same disrupting tools of the new ecosystem, anyone with time can go back to school to study the field from a broad range of voices. Twitter discussions about journalism break out at all hours. Some carry the humor and conflict of skits from “Saturday Night Live.”

Remember the phrase, “Jane, you ignorant slut?”

Others conjure up visions for me of thoughtful editors sipping coffee, reading their morning “papers” and discussing news and theory respectfully. Some are scattered in unlikely places, like Iowa, Upstate South Carolina and North Dakota.

Be careful as you read. Lots of emotions swirl because people’s livelihoods and reputations are on the line. Plus storytellers know that conflict sells. But emotions are contagious, and the questions about news and journalism should not be a battle of us against them.

The discussions often happen virtually on Twitter, and you can listen. Keep in mind, though, that many of the true innovators are out doing, and walking the walk. Judge them by what they make.

Others are teaching, and sharing online in various ways, for free. Find them by looking at sites associated with journalism foundations or colleges.

So now on to practical matters about how you can further the conversation:

  • Find voices on Twitter. Poke around in list of people that @underoak follows on Twitter. That’s my personal account, and it’s heavily skewed toward journalism. I tried making a list, but it’s too long and I’m afraid I’ll leave someone out and hurt feelings. Be mindful of the diversity of the voices you choose to follow. It will broaden your thinking.
  • Use hash tags when you share links or your own thoughts. Brandon Uttley of Charlotte reminded me at the @sofresh conference that he briefly used the tag #localpaper, and discussions gained traction for a while. Perhaps it’s time to renew the tag. Many in Charlotte and elsewhere have also used the tag #FoJ, for future of journalism. The tag has stuck, though the future indeed is already here.
  • Do the reading. Many of the current debates are reflections of discussions that have been going on for years. Start with Phil Meyer’s “The Vanishing Newspaper.” And a self-serving note: My research project for a UNC class in the fall of 2007 was focused on how society should pay for news. There’s a PDF (free!) available from this post. It’s enlightening to go back in time and see which experiments have lasted. Davidsonnews.net is one inspiring local example.
  • Create and attend some real-life meetups to barter skills and ideas with others. Social Media Charlotte has a Bloggers and Journos group. Rhi Bowman and I plan to talk about the freelance life on Sept. 14. Dave Cohn of Spot.Us dialed in via Skype for one meeting. If you’re local, come on by. It’s free. If you’re not local, use your own existing groups or start new ones if none exist.

The industry is changing quickly, and those changes affect many other institutions and businesses. It’s refreshing to see a broad community focus on how information can and should be shared sustainably. Eventually, we’ll find the answers.