September 30, 2005

A New York State of Mind

I used up most of my decent thinking about the Blogger-Big Media chaw-down in New York before it happened. [Read: News Meets the Global Thought Bubble.] But I'll make a couple of observations and then point toward better stuff from the other participants:

 One element was noticeably missing from the Big Media folks (Jonathan Klein, CNN; Andrew Heyward, CBS; Rick Kaplan, MSNBC; Paul Steiger and Bill Grueskin, Wall Street Journal; Kinsey Wilson, USA Today; Martin Nisenholtz, New York Times) - anyone from beyond the top tier (read East Coast). The biggest struggles for the hearts and minds of readers/viewers are being fought in the heartland. So is some of the best work. Next time add someone from McClatchy or Morris.

 The level of awareness of blogs and their capacity among some of the media executives was much higher than I've seen in most newspaper newsrooms. This, of course, reflects the caliber of the people in the room (as Susan Crawford said: "… it's easy to tell why and how they got to where they are. They were curious, charming, thoughtful, and well-spoken."

 There are a lot of scarily smart people in the world thinking about how use technology to keep journalism intact as a business.

Some quotes (mostly paraphrased) from others:

 Terry Heaton: "There's a big difference between people who write because the have something to say people who are paid to write."

 Paul Steiger: Financially successful news media in the future will need at least two things: Uniquely broad credibility and uniquely exciting argument.

 Merrill Brown: The internet revolution is still in its infancy and the biggest opportunities in the future will come from places that are the least expected. Examples: Craigslist and Facebook.

 Dan Gillmor: Advice for news organizations: The more experimentation you have, the better (enable creative people); think about the technology of blogging as a tool that helps you listen.

 Jay Rosen: The production model of doing the news - still operative in most news organizations - worked but it is an "intellectual disaster." Two years ago I wrote:

"To produce newspapers in this manner requires efficient, repetitive action - papers are scripted in advance, before the news happens; reporters are told how long to write, before they cover the stories; photographers are given dimensions of an illustration, before they take the pictures. This way of working discourages innovation and encourages rote behavior. At a time when journalists are better educated than ever before, it is ironic how many of them still work on the factory floor." [Read: Shutting Down the News Factory.]

 Jay Rosen: Journalists "believe a hierarchy of good exists … that fact is higher than opinion. … It is not seen that way on the web."

Here's what other participants had to say about the event:

 Susan Crawford, law professor, cyber-law expert:

"The print guys are very proud of their priesthood, and the culture of journalism is just about the strongest professional bond I've ever seen. The emotional energy that filled the room when the print guys started decrying the "potentially deadly" inaccuracy of bloggers was remarkable. We Are The Truth, they seemed to think -- We Have Standards. Those bloggers, they're just typing. We do so much more. That's the part -- the pride -- that made me worry about beloved print journalism."

 Terry Heaton notes the "extraordinary" observations made by Heyward, president of CBS News:

 A breakdown of our formulas. We're being influenced by bloggers and this idea of conversation.
 The illusion of omniscience is out of date, this idea that everything has an answer and that there's one truth.
 The notion that journalism with a point-of-view is an acceptable form.

 David Weinberger, of Joho the Blog and fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center:

"The MSM were not univocal in their reaction to the Web and blogs. That's appropriate and it's progress. There are still some who think they "get" blogs because they're using blogs as stringers. But others are genuinely uncertain about the future of mainstream news, which is (imo) also appropriate. They're facing the possiblity of genuine discontinuity."

 Jeff Jarvis of Buzzmachine captures Steiger's summarizing comments:

"I think I've heard that the magic of this revolution is that it allows people to reach each other and it allows people to learn from and teach each other. It also allows people to mobilize together. … At the same time … many people will do this because it's fun, because it feels empowering. … Some of those folks will decide they really want to do this and will find ways to get paid. … They will develop business models."

 Jay Rosen of Pressthink notes the Big Fear of Big Media is the Big Money held by non-media companies"

"In competing on the Web, the bloggers do not alarm big media. It's people like Bill Gannon. Yahoo worries them, with its surging revenues, huge traffic flow, and recent moves in news and editorial that involve original content. The portals attract talent, and with their billions they can fund innovation, and roll out new products. This capacity dwarfs what the old line media companies can do, even if everyone on the editorial staff became a Webbie overnight."

All in all, a good morning's conversation, one that in various forms - especially more regional and more local - journalists and news executives (not mutually exclusive) needs to occur more often.

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Posted by Tim Porter at 02:38 PM

September 27, 2005

News Meets the Global Thought Bubble

I am writing on the plane, en route to New York for a discussion organized by the Museum of Television & Radio about the "Intersection of Blogging and Mainstream News."

The group is loaded with enough media heavyweights - from Brown to Nisenholtz to Kaplan - to make me wonder how I got invited (thanks, Jarvis). Among the questions posed by the organizers are:

 How are traditional news organizations responding to citizen journalism and blogging?
 What interests do citizen journalism and mainstream news organizations share? Where are they at odds?
 How wide is the culture gap between incumbent new organizations and citizen journalists?
 How can each form of journalism enhance the other to serve the public better?
 What types of news products and business models might emerge?

These are big questions. Some have simple answers (the width of old-media-new-media culture gap is Grand Canyonesque). Others require profounder responses (what will future audiences of news look like?)

For me, a good place to start is with the nature of the blogosphere itself - a planet-wide theater that truly makes the world a stage for every citizen, provides an unlimited, ever-changing audience and gives everyone who wants one a shot at a piece of the box office. The New York Times last month said in an editorial that "it's natural enough to think of the growth of the blogosphere as a merely technical phenomenon. …

"But it's also a profoundly human phenomenon, a way of expanding and, in some sense, reifying the ephemeral daily conversation that humans engage in. Every day the blogosphere captures a little more of the strange immediacy of the life that is passing before us. Think of it as the global thought bubble of a single voluble species."

Three phrases in that paragraph contain the essence of the opportunity - and the threat - blogging holds for mainstream news organizations: Daily conversation, immediacy of life and global thought bubble.

Daily conversation

The communal shared conversation was, until 15 years ago, the province of newspapers and the networks. The decisions of the editors and news managers of these organizations resulted in daily news agenda that provided grist for the national, regional or local conversation. There were few outlets for "news" beyond these legacy media.

The beginning of the end of old news occurred during Gulf War I, when CNN, personified in the visages of Peter Arnett, yelling into a satellite phone atop a hotel in Baghdad beneath the sky streaked green with anti-aircraft fire, and Bernard Shaw, steady and strong-jawed live on deadline, showed the American public and other journalists that cable could do serious news.

Then came the Clinton years and the proliferation of talk radio, both politicized by and helping create a growing national conservatism that came to regard the airwave pundits as more truthful and more trustworthy than the "liberal media" that was their frequent target.

During this time, of course, the Internet evolved both technologically and socially to the point where its earlier, unfulfilled promise of personal configuration - of news, of entertainment, of social interaction - became a reality, but with a twist only a prescient few had foreseen: Blogging, the power of anyone to publish.

The national conversation is gone, splintered amid media sliced so thin that a person can spend all of his or her media use time within a comforting bubble of self-reinforcing interests. Or, that person can remix the slices, reassemble media across locality and topic and engage in a worldwide conversation with others of similar interests.

The national conversation is gone, replaced by the global conversation.

News media - and journalists - that prosper in this environment will do so because they both enable and participate in that conversation. Their key to entry is their work product - its quality, its transparency, and its authenticity of voice and authority of knowledge.

Immediacy of life

Media is most powerful when it captures, or approximates, the authentic pace and emotion of human life. And with each passing decade, as connection between media and public, between media producer and media consumer, becomes more intimate and therefore more compelling, the expectation of what media can and should do is raised.

Yesterday's immediacy is today's archive fodder.

For example, the powerful images of bloodied American soldiers made by both print and broadcast photojournalists during the Vietnam War were shot on film, flown from the battlefield to be developed elsewhere, and then published or broadcast a day or even days later. Nonetheless, at the time the speed of this ground-level photojournalism and the relatively unfiltered content of the images themselves brought into America's living-rooms the brutal emotions of war, sentiments that contributed to the nation's ultimate disaffection with the conflict.

Flash forward to Iraq: Embedded correspondents, faces glowing green from night vision cameras, broadcast live from their Humvees as U.S. troops cross the Kuwaiti border. Live from the war zone. See it now in a way Ed Murrow never envisioned.

Immediacy is taken for granted these days - even for news that is delayed. Again from Iraq, when the photos of Pvt. Lynndie England making naked Iraqis bark like dogs inside Abu Ghraib hit the Internet, they flowed like rushing water from one web site to another, linked by bloggers of all political persuasion, including those considered enemies by the United States. In the global conversation, even those trying to kill each other can join in.

In the world of "now," where the news continuum runs from ancient history to a moment ago and technology gives the public access to the entire timeline at once, there are many value points, locations, where journalists can stake out ground and publishers can build business models to pay for the journalism.

When media is omnipresent, location has value. When media is overwhelming, editing has value. When media is instantaneous, context has value. When media is spun, truth has value. When media is suspect, data have value. When media is overly professional, amateurs have values. When media is professionally arrogant, authentic amateurs have value.

Global thought bubble

I like this phrase so much I wish I had coined it. When I think of the blogosphere, I recall the colorful world maps that hung on the wall of my high school geography classroom. On them, curved arrows and various shapes and sizes depicted the swirling rivers of ocean and air currents that move endlessly, seamlessly around the globe. The Jet Stream, the Gulf Stream, the Alaska Current. The blogosphere is the same -- The Thought Stream -- moving across geography, beyond nationality, node by node from one individual to another, tying people together in a swirling current of ideas, debate and interaction.

It is the globalization of thought, forming within it virtual nations of interest - commercial, political, social, recreational - whose citizens create their own standards for media authority and own patterns of media use. The media serving the "nation of politics" will have little in common with the media serving the "nation of digital photography" except with their interests overlap, such as when laws are considered that might infringe on the rights of a photographer.

Journalists in this global "community of communities" have many opportunities, even some with legacy news models. Newspapers will not disappear, but they will retreat into niches of locality (your town news), topic (sports, business, science) or quality (high or low). The mass in the middle will be squeezed out of existence.

Newer opportunities are arising to serve these emerging nations of interests. As business models, most remain as yet unproven. Web organizations like, blogs like Talking Points Memo, citizen journalism efforts like Bayosphere and Bluffton Today provide examples of new vehicles for journalism.

Journalism is moving beyond its traditional boundaries. The news this week that Yahoo hired a handful of business columnists (Ben Stein and Stephen Covey among them) to produce original content (on the heels of contracting with solo journalists Kevin Sites to report from war zones) signifies a recognition that content enmeshed in services is still important and that journalism can be a branding experience that can drive readership. [Read: Yahoo Answers the Question: Who Will Pay for the Journalism?] Mainstream journalists should take Yahoo's leap from news aggregator to news producer as a hopeful sign that new business models are developing to pay for journalism.

The globalization of ideas - the global thought bubble that the blogosphere enables - will create demand for more journalism not less, for more reporting, more fact-finding and truth-telling, more data and more analysis of that data to feed and help generate ideas. Traditional journalists can adapt and participate or they can let others fill that role.

To me it's a no-brainer. I choose the former.

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Posted by Tim Porter at 09:07 PM | Comments (1)

Dinged by the Professor

In the current issue of Nieman Reports, Phil Meyer takes me to the woodshed for failing to correct an error in a post I made about his book "The Vanishing Newspaper."

I had Hal Jurgensmeyer's first name wrong (I went with Hans) and Meyer posted a correction in the comments of the post. Then, says Meyer:

"Six months later, near the top of his review, the influence model was still credited to 'Hans' Jurgensmeyer. The correction wasn't even on the same screen. Only readers who made it all the way through Porter's piece and continued to the commentary section could learn Jurgensmeyer's real name. That's ethical?"

Ouch. Sloppy, yes, at times that's me. Unethical, nope. I regret the error, as we used to say at the newspaper, but convicting me, as a representation of unedited bloggers everywhere, of unethical behavior strikes me as capital punishment for a misdemeanor.

That said, Meyer's larger point - that accountability and credibility are linked - is well taken and all of us who traffic in facts, online and off, should pay better attention.

Later, in the same article, Meyer exclaims: "Just fix the man's name!"


Posted by Tim Porter at 07:33 PM | Comments (3)

September 26, 2005

Building the Journalism of the Future, Intentionally

It's getting harder and harder to find a silver lining in the cloud of bad news that is enveloping the newspaper industry. But I'm going to try.

My mantra that practicing quality journalism will help newspapers find a path to a sustainable future rings hollowly in light of the New York Times' announcement that will trim 4 percent of its workforce, including 45 positions in the newsroom.

I need to rewrite first post I made on this blog nearly three years ago, which I somewhat hubristically entitled the Quality Manifesto. Then I wrote:

"Newspapers are not the victims of homicide but of suicide. They are not dying at the hands of demographic changes or emergent technologies. They are killing themselves with clichéd writing, formulaic stories, hackneyed photographs and adherence to a self-destructive, journalistic form that emphasizes breadth of news coverage over depth."

This is all still true, at least on the hundreds of ordinary newspapers in regional and smaller markets that invest almost nothing in training, readership studies or product development. Since that post, though, the media world has marched incessantly and increasingly rapidly forward, stretching even further the gap between news consumption patterns, overall media use and the one-size-fits-all news delivery approach of most newspapers.

The cuts in newsroom staffing arise directly from a bottom line weakened by declining circulation and advertising revenue, trends that will not only continue but are likely to accelerate, forcing publicly owned news companies to slash further to produce the level of double-digit returns investors have grown accustomed to.

Here's Phil Meyer, explaining on the online-news listserv, where this sort of market harvesting he foresaw in his book "The Vanishing Newspaper" will lead (my emphasis):

"… both the market cap and the resale value of newspaper companies will fall as ad revenues decline. Investors can look at the future and see that milking the assets has finite returns. There is a bottom down there, and when it becomes visible, the shakeout will be apocalyptic. Journalism and print will survive, but new players will be leading us out of the ashes. That's the hopeful message for today's students. Watch out for (and become) the new guys." [Read: Reading the Vanishing Newspaper: A Guide.]

Meyer's hopeful caveat for the journalists of tomorrow can be applied as well to the journalists of today - those who still have jobs. Steve Yelvington, also writing on the online-news list, says journalists need to take control of their own future - at least the part they control: The content of their newspapers. He says (my emphasis):

"What we can do is try to find the causes that we can actively address. One of those causes, I think, is the quality and especially the nature of the products we offer.

"This is not a simple matter of staffing levels or profit margins. It is that the newspapers we print and the websites we build are out of sync with the needs of the communities we serve. There are a lot of dimensions to this problem -- demographic changes, social fragmentation, disengagement from local life, etc.

"To address these changes, we need journalists to apply their critical listening skills to an open and frank conversation with the so-called business side. The fingers need to be holding pens and taking notes, not pointing."

The editors, the reporters, everyone in the newsroom, control what's printed in their newspapers and broadcast on their web sites. When readers and viewers say they want no more of that type of journalism, the blame falls not on the public or on the suits in the boardroom, but squarely on the newsroom. Modern society is undergoing its greatest shift ever in communication capacity and newspaper newsrooms still operate with the same hierarchies, same beat structures and same news values as they did at the turn of the last century. I wrote earlier this year:

"…I am sorry, my friends in the newsroom, much of the rest is your fault. The journalism, the leadership, the mandate to reflect and engage your community, the necessity to make tough, but creative decisions in the face of conflict, as all industries must do from time to time - those are all your responsibilities and you have abdicated them." [Read: The Mood of the Newsroom.]

(If you haven't yet read Bob Cauthorn's perceptive distinction between product and platform, do so.)

I would not want to be working at the San Francisco Chronicle or Philadelphia Inquirer or San Jose Mercury News right now, but if I were I would approach the post-layoff-buyout world journalists at those newspapers find themselves in by asking their editors these questions:

If someone gave you 500 journalists (or 400 or 300) and the $XX millions in annual dollars (anywhere from $20-40 million) needed to run the newsroom and said: Make any kind of news operation you want. Would you make the same newspaper? Would you create the same beats, departments, production and decision-making processes? Would you hire the same people? Would you design the paper and its web site in the same formats?

Of course not! But I'm not yet sure newspapers have the leadership to overcome the inertia, the culture and the tradition that keep them from changing and invent a new future for themselves.

At a conference last week at Harvard, during a discussion about how reporters could get more complex stories in the paper, an editor from a large Eastern newspaper that has made significant newsroom cuts answered:

The reality for mainstream journalists is that there is "less opportunity to do the long pieces, the in-depth pieces. … We are short of people and money and time. … I can't give reporters two months to work on a story. I tell them to juggle it. … We are dictated by the business side of the industry."

The person who made this remark is a committed, passionate journalist and a smart editor, but she is completely wrong.

The proper response during a retrenchment is to venture forth and find focus, not to seek shelter in diffusion. Newspapers need to abandon the dangerous position that because they have fewer journalists they will do less of everything - resulting in thin, watery journalism across the board. Instead, they must do more of less - jettisoning some types of coverage, eliminating duplication of effort with the wires (do you need your own writer at Wimbledon, your own movie critics in regional markets?) and developing depth and expertise in a narrower range of topics chosen intentionally to connect with the local community.

In order to preserve the principles of journalism, we must change its practices and form. We must create journalism we can sell. We must commit journalism by any means necessary. [Read: Journalism by Every Means Necessary.]

The future of news belongs to those who build it. Journalists are not excluded from this process - although they have been acting like they are. Were I to rewrite the Quality Manifesto, I could call it the Innovation Manifesto or the Reinvention Manifesto (or the Phoenix Manifesto in honor of Phil Meyer's up from the ashes metaphor). More likely, though, I'd title it Intentional Journalism.

Intentional journalism departs from the passive "news happens" school of journalism. (Hey, too much crime in the paper? We can't help it - news happens!) About a year ago, I wrote:

"A newspaper that is intentional, and not an accident of any type, demands continual self-appraisal of what's in the paper and collaborative discussion about how to change the newspaper and the journalists who produce it. How can we wean journalists off their dependence on "more" as the answer to newspapers' problems? How can we disrupt their inertia and teach them how to change?" [Read: Intentional Journalism.]

In answer to that question, I once proffered the idea of the 10 Percent Solution - change the whole newsroom in a decade by devoting 10 percent of budget and staff annually to reinvention. [Read: ASNE Convention: Six Things that Should be on the Agenda.] That idea was too conservative. Most newspapers don't have a decade to squander on change.

The question every newspaper editor in this country should be prepared to answer on Jan. 1, 2006, is:

What do we have to do to reinvent this news operation this year?
The answers - different in each community - should form from a zero-based appraisal of resource allocation focused on connecting the newspaper more deeply to community: How are we going to spend our editorial budget? How are we going use our reporters? What is working (do more of that)? What isn't (less of that?) In short, why do we do what we do?

This process will require brutally honest self-appraisal, engagement in difficult conversations, and focus on reader and product that are missing in most newsrooms. It also will likely result in forcing some people out of the news business who should have left long ago in order to bring in folks who believe the principles of journalism can be practiced in new ways to capture the attention of a fluid and changing audience.

Phil Meyer is right. Journalism and print will survive, but it will be different. The degree of difference is unknown, but the ominous news of the last week signals opportunity for those journalists who want to build their own, intentional future.

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Posted by Tim Porter at 07:01 PM | Comments (6)

September 23, 2005

Journalism, Race and Katrina: Connecting the Dots

Here's my post from the IJJ-Poynter blog on reporting about race:

That the U.S. news media was under-reporting the extent of poverty in America before Hurricane Katrina brought it into everyone’s living-room is known.

That the news media attention span is about the length of a sweeps period is known, meaning the sudden appearance of the permanent underclass on the daily news menu will be temporary.

That the racial divide in this country, narrowed in the last half-century, exists still in subtle but insidious forms, many fostered by the stereotyping of the news media, is known.

Given that, two sets of panelists at the Institute for Justice and Journalism’s gathering at Harvard for its 2005 racial justice fellows attempted to make sense of the pre- and post-Katrina news coverage.

The lessons of Katrina for journalists extend far beyond New Orleans and Biloxi and Pascagoula. They are applicable to the full breadth of journalism done daily everywhere in the country and go to the heart of the journalistic mindset – what Jay Rosen calls pressthink – that molds our values, decisions and definitions about what is or isn’t news.

Here’s Ellis Cose, an author and contributing editor at Newsweek:

“As news institutions, we don’t generally drive the agenda. We tend to hop on somebody else’s agenda. … Katrina justified stories to be done on something that was there all the time. … It was the same with No Child Left Behind. (It) produced more stories on education.”

Good point. Newspapers, for example, rarely have strong editorial priorities, areas defined as points of focus for their journalistic muscle. Yes, they often say, when asked, we think education or traffic or growth is important, but can they truly say they are know for, identified in the community, that coverage. Usually not. More typically, these priorities become more seasoning in a daily news stew rather than a signature dish.

Here’s Erna Smith, a journalism professor at San Francisco State University and USC:

Journalists, she says, operate in news frame, a set of norms and practices that help us shortcut and simplify complex issues. When covering race, for example, we find reduce race to an institution because most of journalism is based on institutional actions – meetings, reports, processes, trials – and for that institution we find an official, a “race spokesperson,” say Jesse Jackson. In fact, says Smith, “there isn’t a generic race person that speaks for everybody.”

This framing is another way of saying what Andrew Cline, a reporter turn rhetorician, calls “narrative bias,” the definition of a “story” that has antagonists, protagonists and clear-cut beginning and end even though, as Cline says, “much of what happens in our world … is ambiguous.” And once we have a story line, says Cline, we’re reluctant to let it go. He says:

“… it is very difficult to get journalists to see that their narrative is simply one way, and not necessarily the correct or best way, of viewing people and events.”

The result: The reduction of complexity to simplicity and the over-reliance on a Rolodex of stale sources with set-piece ideas.

Here’s Lani Guinier, the Harvard law professor and activist, commenting on what she saw as the shortcomings of the New York Times series about class in America:

The reporters didn’t make connection between race and class as if “class was a discrete phenomena. … What is missing from too much of what I read is analysis, a willingness to go deep.” The stories didn’t address “why some people get to live in the suburbs of Atlanta and have an enormous set of options and others don’t.”

Finally, here’s Kevin Weston, a journalist with New California Media, who went into an evacuation center in Baton Rouge and found young black men who rapped about the hurricane:

“We wanted to focus on how people are helping each other” and that led to connecting the hip hop “as an emerging institution in the community” … and the “black church, which has been marginalized in my generation … The black church is our red cross” and we “wanted to deal with it on a real personal level.”

These comments address some of the common ailments of modern journalism, some identified with newspapers, some with TV, some shared: Covering institutions rather than issues; relying on official sources; disconnection from the community around us; a hesitancy to tackle complexity; lack of long-term attention to long-term issues (as Jon Funabiki of the Ford Foundation said, we think “once we’ve published, our work is done.”)

Some truly great journalism was done post-Katrina, much of through immense effort and personal sacrifice. The question is how to continue, how, as Erna Smith says “do we bring this sensibility to health, education” and the other social complexities that reward some in our society but punish or exclude others?

For me, much of the answer lies in leadership.

Newspapers – journalists – need a sense of mission, a return to purpose and passion. As Smith says, “I’m not sure if it’s about ownership or the diversity of the people in the room, but they need someone charge of the place who sees there’s a fundamentally different mission to doing journalism than selling Coca Cola.”

Posted by Tim Porter at 06:37 AM

September 22, 2005

One Neighborhood, Many Stories

This is my latest post on the IJJ-Poynter blog on reporting about race:

Massachusetts Avenue connects the ivied walls of Harvard to the gates of a former urban Hell.

The avenue runs from Cambridge to Boston, bisecting the sprawling MIT campus, crossing the Charles River, skirting the 52-story Prudential Center, leaving downtown and less than two miles farther forming the eastern boundary of one of the city's most notorious neighborhoods, Roxbury.

Using the phrase "urban hell" to describe Roxbury's past is not hyperbole. In the 1960s and 1970s, after the post-War white population had moved to Boston's burgeoning suburbs, Roxbury took on a different complexion - blacks African Americans from the South and brown immigrants from Cape Verde, a group of North Atlantic islands west of Senegal.

Property values plummeted, victim of a society that associated people of color with a neighborhood in decline. Building owners couldn't sell or refinance, so they burned - and burned and burned. Hundreds of Roxbury homes and apartment buildings were torched for insurance money in those decades.

The core of this intentional destruction was the Dudley Street Triangle, the poorest blocks within the larger impoverished neighborhood. By 1984, nearly a third of the Dudley Street Triangle's 60 acres lay empty, 1,300 parcels abandoned by their owners left to decline even further into festering mounds of vermin-ridden trash and garbage dumped nightly by scavenger companies and individuals. Dudley Street, once a thriving blue-collar community, had become Boston's dump yard.

The journalists participating in the Institute for Justice and Journalism's 2005 racial justice fellowships made the trip yesterday from one end of Massachusetts Avenue to the other to meet with members of Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, who had accomplished what must have seemed impossible two decades ago - driven out the dumpers, cleaned up the abandoned lots, gained the confidence of Boston's Irish-American political bureaucracy and, with the help of several million-dollars in loans it has since repaid, built hundreds of new, affordable homes in the neighborhood.

Life is not perfect today in the triangle. About a third of Dudley Street residents - 40 percent African American, 30 percent Latino, 25 percent Cape Verdean and the remainder white - live below the poverty level. A neighborhood walk passes by many houses with barred windows and many others still in disrepair. Cabs consider the area off limits. A bathroom in a local Dominican restaurant displays cards offering help for battered women. Powerful lights illuminate a pocket park a night to deter drug dealers.

Yet, life is better. New houses rimmed by picket fences rise from once dead land. The voices of schoolchildren emanate from a playground built by residents. A community greenhouse, built but not yet in use, promises fresh vegetables. Hope is replacing anger and despair.

What kind of stories does Dudley Street hold for journalists, especially in the context of race and reporting?

Is it a success story - a tale of recovery perhaps told through John Barros, who volunteered to help clean his neighborhood as a teen-ager, found his way to Dartmouth and returned as executive director of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative? Is it a people story, that of Jason Webb, who at age 7 followed garbage trucks on his bike, wrote down their license numbers and turned them in as illegal dumpers? He also helps run Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative?

Maybe, though, it's a more sobering story, a narrative of a neighborhood that despite 20 years of committed struggle remains still a place where thugs control part of the night and even some of the newer homes show ragged edges - flaking paint, fallen fences, ripped screens - that result from inattention or lack of money for maintenance? Sadly, Dudley Street continues to be a neighborhood where the journalists who visited it likely would not choose to live.

All these stories are true stories. Which should we tell? How should we tell them?

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Posted by Tim Porter at 09:02 AM

Good Quotes, Better Lessons

Here is my post today from the IJJ-Poynter blog on reporting on race:

Journalists receive less training than their peers in any other profession, due in part to the news industry's lack of investment in it. It's natural, then, for journalists to rank training even higher than more pay as their top priority.

Still, I've always thought training was a poor word for what journalists need. I prefer learning - or education. Training is to learning what typing is to writing. It's a sterile word, invoking memories of safety drills, driver's ed or learning the commands for that new front-end system. Learning, though, involves creativity, stretching of the mind and mastering new skills. It's professional growth.

A great thing about journalists is that when they get togethers they learn from one another. Peer to peer. That's a huge benefit of professional development programs like the Poynter Institute and the Institute for Justice and Journalism.
Kay Mills has been doing journalism for 40 years - from Chicago to Baltimore to Washington to Los Angeles - and she's still learning, from other professionals and from other journalists. Here are some comments from Mills after a couple days at IJJ's gathering of its 2005 racial justice fellows, of which she is one. Each contains a lesson applicable to journalism.

From Kay Mills: My contribution stems from my years and years of collecting what I call cogent quotes. I want to share what I consider "good lines" from the racial justice seminars this week at Harvard.
 Heidi Pickman, independent radio producer from Los Angeles: "Economics is a very good tool for expanding the pie but not for dividing it."
 Louis Freedberg, editorial writer for the San Francisco Chronicle who is originally from South Africa and who shook Nelson Mandela's hand soon after Mandela voted for the first time in his life: "The lesson from South Africa is that change is possible."
 Brian Smedley, research director, The Opportunity Agenda: "Most of the rest of the world recognizes health as a human right."
 Ichiro Kawachi, professor of social epidemiology at Harvard University, speaking about statistics on race from Brazil but a comment that is applicable elsewhere: "The countries that are most embarrassed by some aspect of their society are least likely to collect data on that aspect."
 A comment from a member of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative about housing construction in Roxbury, a Boston neighborhood ravaged by redlining, arson and other ills, in the film "Holding Ground": "I believe if you build it and it's the right housing, people will live here."

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Posted by Tim Porter at 06:13 AM

Black Tuesday

I'm jammed at this IJJ-Nieman conference and haven't had the time to post on the all the newspaper layoff news -- S.F. Chronicle, N.Y. Times, Philadelhia Inquirer -- but Steve Yelvington has and says just what I would:

"Every newspaper journalist in America should consider this a wake-up call. You can't continue to put out yesterday's newspaper in today's world. You can't continue to go through the motions of journalism without the heart. You can't pretend that the Internet is somebody else's problem. Change, or die.

"If you want resources, come up with a plan. Create a product that demands to be read. Figure out how to earn your way back into a daily relationship with at least two-thirds of the adult population. You're going to have to talk with, and listen to, real people, and create newspapers and journalism for them instead of for other journalists and prize committees."

Posted by Tim Porter at 05:36 AM

September 21, 2005

Race and Reporting

I'm still at Harvard working the Institute for Justice and Journalism conference on race and reporting. I'm posting on a Poynter blog about the issue.

Here's my post from today:

First some data:

 About 17.5 percent of American adults don’t have health insurance. If you’re Hispanic, though, the number is 35 percent; African American, 22.8 percent; white, only 12.7 percent.
 The life expectancy of an American male is 73.4 years. But if you are a black man in Washington, D.C., it’s only 57.9 years – less time alive than in Ghana, Bangladesh or Bolivia.
 American minorities less likely than whites to be treated well for heart disease, receive kidney dialysis or transplants or get sophisticated HIV treatment. They are, however, more likely than whites to receive “certain less-desirable procedures,” such as having a leg amputated for diabetes.

Does this racial disparity in health care sound like news? Certainly it does – and the U.S. press has been writing about it. A search of Lexis-Nexis on “health care and racial disparity” produces hundreds of newspaper stories, including many referring to the report from which the above information came, of "Unequal Treatment," a 2002 study by the Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academy of Sciences.

Newspapers do some of their best work on health care issues (read this L.A. Times series on King/Drew Medical Center), but they also do some of their shallowest on the same subject, writing routine report stories or focusing on heart-tugging personal stories instead of larger, more difficult issues.

During a day of seminars devoted to race and health care, IJJ’s racial justice fellows heard Brian Smedley, an author of the Institute of Medicine study, describe how minority Americans, even those with private health insurance, consistently receive a lower standard of health care than their white counterparts. The culprits are a combination of culture, economics and various forms of bias – much of it unconscience and manifested in lower expectations by medical professionals for their minority patients.

As an issue, health care and its unequal access is complex, deep-rooted and, ultimately, very personal, especially to the poor. It can also be daunting to cover for news organizations that are feeling resource-squeezed or feel pressure to report on matters that are more demographically targeted to capture new readers, growing suburbs, for example. Poverty, let’s admit it, is a bit out fashion as a beat compared to a couple of decades ago.

What can journalists do, especially those working on mid-size or smaller newspapers, to tell this story better? Here are a few stories that can be reported in any community:

 Emergency room use. The poor, the uninsured, use hospital emergency rooms as their primary care center. Local residents of all economic brackets foot the bill. What’s the story in your community. Here’s an example from National Public Radio in Minneapolis.
 The private sector is collecting racial and ethnic data on medical treatment with more precision than the government, says Smedley. What do insurers like Aetna know about your community that you don’t?
 Morbidity rates. The Centers for Disease Control is a good place to start.
 Translation services. Medical facilities that receive federal money – and that’s nearly every one – must provide translation services for their patients. Do they? What is their quality? Who are the contractors? Are hospitals, for example, using the bilingual children of immigrants to translate?

Later in the day, filmmaker Larry Adelman, producer of the PBS series “Race – The Power of an Illusion,” urged journalists to focus more on the larger, systemic issue of health-care disparity and less on the one-person story. You “spend too much time looking at what individuals can do to improve their health,” he said. You “need to break out of those individual stories.”

“The message” of the day from the health care scientists, said Steve Montiel, director of the Institute for Justice and Journalism, “is to deal with complexity, to not back away from it, to not simplify.”

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Posted by Tim Porter at 05:51 AM

September 19, 2005

Will Katrina Resurrect a Journalism of Passion?

As the waters recede from New Orleans, the increasingly partisan debate continues over the whether racism, benign or otherwise, contributed to the negligence of government at all levels to protect the city's poorest population - its African American neighborhoods.

What is the role of journalists in this debate? Have we paid enough attention to the racial and economic divisions in our society? Have we held the institutions of government upon which the poor most depend - our schools, our hospitals, our courts - accountable for their service to community and expense of public money?

When the Gulf of Mexico spilled through the sodden dikes of New Orleans and inundated the city's economic ghettos, the flooding, ironically, uncovered a journalistic outrage that had lain submerged in mainstream news media for several decades. As journalists, we need to ask ourselves, as others are now doing, where was that fury in the years before the flood? Where was the passion to protect against the abuses of power - or, in this case, the absence of protective power - those in society cannot speak for themselves or whose unfashionable pleadings fall on indifferent ears? We like to say part of our journalistic mission, part of our constitutionally-protected role in a civil society, is to speak truth to power. Did we do that? Did we do it loudly enough? Often enough? Long enough?

Or did we bury that purpose beneath a pile of more pressing or conflicting urgencies - readership and advertising losses, over-extended newsrooms trying to fulfill a laundry list of management priorities, religious-like adhesion to an "objectivity" that causes readers to increasingly see the institutions of the press not at part of the solution but as part of the problem?

Poverty is out of fashion, a victim of issue fatigue. Partisanship is sexier and more fun - argument for its own sake. But deep, endemic poverty eventually surfaces as the non-partisan beast it is, as the Republicans in the White House and the Democrats in the Louisiana statehouse are learning far too late. Government at all levels failed the poor of New Orleans. Was journalism also culpable?

It is to be expected that pundits like Paul Krugman of the Times and Democrats like ex-President Clinton will lash out at the Bush administration, and at American society in general, for turning a blind eye to the welfare of the nation's poor, of whom black Americans compose the highest percentage. Writes Krugman of the president:

"Under George W. Bush - who, like Mr. Reagan, isn't personally racist but relies on the support of racists - the anti-government right has reached a new pinnacle of power."

And of our society:

" … who can honestly deny that race is a major reason America treats its poor more harshly than any other advanced country? To put it crudely: a middle-class European, thinking about the poor, says to himself: 'There but for the grace of God go I.' A middle-class American is all too likely to think, perhaps without admitting it to himself: 'Why should I be taxed to support those people?'"

Clinton blames the social and fiscal policies of his successor's administration for heightening the effect of the disaster. He says:

" … you can't have an emergency plan that works if it only affects middle-class people up. … if you give your tax cuts to the rich and hope everything works out all right, and poverty goes and it disproportionately affects black and brown people, that's a consequence of the action made."

What are journalists to do with these accusations beyond simply reporting them?

I see them as challenges - red flags that I hope stirs further fury and fuels reinvigoration of a journalism of passion, one that confronts our society's most vexing issues and confronts those responsible for solving them with deep, contextual reporting and relentless pointed commentary.

Let us not hide from this challenge behind the false shield of objectivity. Some things are just wrong and it is OK to say so. It is wrong for people to live in poverty generation after generation in a country so wealthy. It is wrong for skin color to determine destiny in a country so avowedly democratic. It is wrong that only the wealthy can avoid sending their children to schools that do not educate. It is wrong that health care is an unaffordable luxury for millions of our fellow Americans.

These are bitter truths. We do not need to dilute their harsh taste with he-said-she-said journalism. These truths need champions - and that is something journalists should proud to be: Stewards of what is true.

I believe one contributor to the horrifying decline in public credibility of mainstream news organizations is that the press silenced its voice as a watchdog of government and become instead a de facto spokesman for government. Journalism of passion and advocacy gave way to the journalism of stenography.

It is not enough to do great work highlighting the failings of government - as the Times-Picayune did in New Orleans with its prescient, investigative series three years ago about the dangerous condition of the city's levees. I applaud the Times-Picayune for that work and for its powerful presence in the community after the storm, but without insinuating anything negative about the paper's efforts I think we should ask: What good did it do? The newspaper published and the city still perished.

Publishing is not enough. It is too easy for those in power to ignore or manipulate the news media, to use the elements of faux journalism to undercut the elements or true journalism. If we find truths, if we believe them critical to the wellbeing of our society, then we must champion them. Over and over and over.

This week, two journalism organizations are taking on the issue of race and journalism. The Institute for Justice and Journalism, a USC-based organizations I've done research for, is gathering its 2005 racial justice fellows with this year's crop of Neiman fellows at Harvard for a series of seminar on race and reporting. And, the Poynter Institute is holding a week-long workshop, Writing About Race.

I asked Steve Montiel, head of IJJ, for some thoughts on the purpose the meeting. He responded with these questions:

"What did we learn from Hurricane Katrina about race and justice in America? How can these lessons strengthen journalism about justice and injustice? What do journalists need to know to report accurately and authoritatively about race and poverty? What questions should reporters and editors be asking to help the public understand and care about the complexities and consequences of class-based racism in a new world?"

I'll say it even more plainly: What do we have to do to ensure that our everyday journalism is filled with the passion that emerged after Hurricane Katrina?

I am coordinating a group blog on the Poynter site from the two conferences, something new for both organizations. Journalism training and fellowships traditionally have been limited to a fortunate few who have had the time or the money to participate. The blog is small step toward enabling journalists anywhere in the world to be exposed to the thinking on this issue and to participate through comments in the discussion. Please join in.

 Mary Curtis on race and journalism For today’s reporters, understanding they don’t know much about poor people is the starting point. Will they stay with the story long enough to get up to speed?

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Posted by Tim Porter at 09:00 PM | Comments (5)

September 18, 2005

The More Things Change ...

You've heard me say that journalism is a verb, meaning that journalism is something we do, a way of communicating information, context and conversation that is distinct from the platforms we use to communicate with.

I came across this essay by CP Scott, the legendary editor of the Guardian, written on the occasion of that newspaper's 100th anniversary. Scott wrote this in 1921, decades before newspapers began falling victim to the emergence first of television and, more decades later, digital media. Scott warns of a much greater danger to the future of newspapers -- which at the time were the only commerical vehicle for journalism -- media consolidation, loss of personality and soul and a public that will reject chicanery and arrogance. Scott wrote(my emphasis):

One of the virtues, perhaps almost the chief virtue, of a newspaper is its independence. Whatever its position or character, at least it should have a soul of its own. But the tendency of newspapers, as of other businesses, in these days is towards amalgamation. In proportion, as the function of a newspaper has developed and its organisation expanded, so have its costs increased. The smaller newspapers have had a hard struggle; many of them have disappeared. In their place we have great organisations controlling a whole series of publications of various kinds and even of differing or opposing politics. The process may be inevitable, but clearly there are drawbacks. As organisation grows personality may tend to disappear. It is much to control one newspaper well; it is perhaps beyond the reach of any man, or any body of men, to control half a dozen with equal success. It is possible to exaggerate the danger, for the public is not undiscerning. It recognises the authentic voices of conscience and conviction when it finds them, and it has a shrewd intuition of what to accept and what to discount.

The essay's most oft-quoted sentence is this one: "Comment is free, but facts are sacred," which goes to the heart of an argument for a free and independent press. But, Scott's prescient observation about the public's tendency to gravitate toward authenticity dovetails nicely with the public's current disaffection with mainstream media (45 percent of Americans believe "little or almost nothing" of what they read in papers) and its growing dependence on independent voice like those of bloggers.

Posted by Tim Porter at 06:15 PM | Comments (1)

September 15, 2005

Good Stuff from the Newsreader

 Steve Yelvington on local news sites like Austin360Blogs: "These interactive websites offer an opportunity for a newspaper or broadcaster to rebuild civic engagement and social capital."

 Jeff Jarvis in the Guardian on Hurricane Katrina's affect on the news: "(Because of) the flooding of presses and the toppling of towers … news was freed from the shackles of media. Now he who controls distribution no longer controls news. And news is no longer shaped by the pipe that carries it." (Via Yelvington.)

 John Robinson on the world as community: "… we must be intensely local, but at the same time have a prominent dose of national and word news. We've been talking about how to satisfy these needs, which seem contradictory on their face. They aren't, of course."

 Newspaper ad share continues to drop: The U.S. advertising market grew 4.5 percent in the first half of 2005; newspaper ad growth was up only 1.7 percent. Overall newspaper share fell from 17.8 to 17.3 percent. (Via Steve Rubel.)

 J-Learning goes live: The J-Lab's new how-to-do community journalism site is up and running. Plenty of how-to, not too much though about journalism. (Via Susan Mernit.)

 Jay Rosen on context: What the heck is it? "Which context to add is a debatable decision that cannot be governed by any existing rule set in journalism." (In Rhetorica.)

 Environmental journalists on free flow of information (PDF): "Journalists are having an increasingly difficult time using the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to drag information out of the federal government to shed light on Superfund sites, chemical factories, mining accidents and a host of other topics important to citizens." (Via Dan Gillmor.)

Posted by Tim Porter at 09:18 AM

Yahoo Answers the Question: Who Will Pay for the Journalism?

Is Kevin Sites a precursor of the future of journalism or is he simply the new Geraldo?
Is Sites the first indicator that non-traditional news organizations are going to step in an underwrite journalism at a time when traditional vehicles, like newspapers and television, are cutting back?

I'm betting against Geraldo (although Gawker did key in on Sites' brawny biceps appeal.)

Sites, as you know by now, is the NBC producer, war correspondent and blogger hired by Yahoo to report from war zones around the world. Sites, who reported on his own from Iraq and Afghanistan, will file in all formats for the soon-to-come Kevin Sites in the Hot Zone.

By hiring Sites, Yahoo has jumped the fence from news aggregator to news producer. The reason: The New York Times attributes it to Yahoo's desire to create "signature programming" that can attract the "rapidly growing demand for video advertising on the Internet."

In other words, Yahoo is going to use an old idea (journalism) done in new form (digital, cross-platform) to attract an old source of revenue (advertising) delivered in a new manner (digital video). Sounds like a good thing to me - a new source of money to pay for journalism.

Phil Meyer, the venerable professor of journalism at University of North Carolina, wrote in his book "The Vanishing Newspaper, Saving Journalism in the Information Age" that as the traditional economic models of journalism erode - newspaper advertising, mass television audience - new entities are likely to arise to pay for the journalism. Said Meyer:

"There is, in short, more than one way to pay for the next news." [Read: Reading the Vanishing Newspaper: A Guide.]

Meyer mentions the Center for Public Integrity as the type of organization, one underwritten by charitable trusts, that could produce quality journalism outside the eyeballs-for-advertising model.

Yahoo's backing of one well-coiffed "sojo" (solo journalist) doesn't necessarily signal a full-scale move by the portal (or its rival, Google) into being a news producer (in fact, a Yahoo executive told the Times that Yahoo is not "building any kind of news organization") but it does indicate the business side of new media thinks money is to be made doing a very old media thing, journalism.

As public credibility drops in mainstream journalism and newspapers continue to slash staff, community-minded entrepreneurs like Craig Newmark occasionally wonder aloud about whether they should venture into some form of public-spirited journalism to help fill the gap. I suspect that will happen some day, just as I believe Google is likely to some day move beyond aggregating to production.

Citizen-journalism start-ups are everywhere, efforts to create from the grassroots what the upper echelons of journalism have eschewed - local news. These, too, are possible replacement vehicles.

I like to say the future of news belongs to those who invest in it. In my summary of Meyer's book I wrote:

If there is an "ism" journalists should embrace to ensure they have future vehicles to support John Knight's "essential mission ("Get the truth and print it.") then it is entrepreneurism. Don't wait for new forms of media to emerge - build them yourselves.

That's what Yahoo is doing, one Sites at a time.

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Posted by Tim Porter at 08:02 AM

September 12, 2005

What Journalism Could Learn from Advertising

I went all the way to Buenos Aires to hear an advertising guy describe how the journalism business can adapt to the future.

During a conference on journalism and communication in the digital age sponsored by the Buenos Aires business business newspaper Infobae, Eric Wheeler, who heads OgilvyInteractive, North America, outlined eight points ad agencies must embrace to ensure a seat a the digital media table. If you change the phrase "ad agencies" to "news organizations," I think Wheeler's advice applies equally well to journalism. Wheeler's points are in bold; my comments follow:

 Customer insight is critical: News companies must not only understand their markets better, but journalists must operate closer to, and in conjunction with, their readers and viewers.

 The future is fragmented: The much-documented disintegration of mass media - and the accompanying division of advertising dollars - continues (and accelerates) with the ability of people to create their own media and remix that made by others. Successful news organizations will be those that can slice their own products thin enough for their audiences to rearrange them as they choose. [Read: Oh, Canada: An Innovation Presentation.]

 Continual change will be the norm: Static, plodding news organizations will lose market share, money and relevance. Dynamic, adaptable organizations will win out. Think Senge, not Patton. The learning newsroom, one that can continually educate and reinvent itself in accordance with the world around it, will have the best chances for survival. [Read: Rethinking the News Factory (Again).]

 Brands need stewardship: Newspapers are not leveraging the legacy power of their brands. The best journalism organizations, such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, invest in those brands by investing in their news products. Penurious, short-term news managers will pay the prices for their Scrooge-like ways. The future of news belongs to those who build it. Here's Bill Keller of the New York Times talking about the merger of the Times' print and online newsrooms (my emphasis):

"… One of the biggest long-term challenges facing our craft is to invent a digital journalism and new services for our readers that both live up to our high standards and help carry the cost of a great news-gathering organization."

 Consumers need help managing media: It's called editing. Journalists do it well. Now that media have exploded into thousands of remixable slivers, there is value in those who can help sort it out.

 Push boundaries: Journalism is what we do. What form it takes and how we distribute it are secondary. The only journalistic rule that matters is to tell the truth (about the news, about our sources, about ourselves). Other than the only limitations are self-created, boundaries of tradition, newsroom culture and production. We made them. We can get rid of them. [Read: Journalism is a Verb, Not a Platform.]

 Creativity means technology: Digital technology enables news organizations to meet the demands of fractured audiences, to empower their journalists to work in more than one dimension, to present news and information in layered, contextual formats and to report, analyze and narrate the events of the world in inventive new ways that can connect with people for whom traditional media, like newspapers and the sonorous anchor, have no relevance.

 Big ideas still rule: "Think big. Don't just be practitioners of the craft." Tinkering won't get us anywhere. Media has exploded. We need to explode the newsroom.

Finally, Wheeler told the many students in the audience that now is a great time to get into advertising because the advances of digital technology have created a period of great change. Ditto for journalism.

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Posted by Tim Porter at 08:03 AM

September 06, 2005

10 Reasons for Reading a News Site

While I'm trying to make "periodistic" sense in Spanish here in Buenos Aires, I'm cribbing in English from the online news list.

Travis Smith, of Hop Studios, responds to yesterday's 10 reasons to read a newspaper with "Top 10 Reasons for Reading a News Site." He writes (my emphasis):

1. My news site has never stained my clean shirt or my car seat.

2. Anywhere I travel, my news site goes with me. It doesn't pile up
while I'm away.

3. I can listen to my news site's podcast while standing, while
eating, while riding a bus, OR while I drive my car.

4. If I read a story I like, I can send it to a friend without a stamp.

5. My news site doesn't just have sections -- it's customizable, and
it shows my wife and I exactly what we're interested, separately.

6. I'll give you the battery advantage. But my news site has each
apartment listing with detailed descriptions, photos and a precise
map. My newspaper says "Downtown, 2 bd/2 bt, 5 appl., ht & ht wtr,
balc, d/i pool, n/p, n/s. $1200"

7. My news site never gets stolen off my doorstep or delivered late. Or wet.

8. My news site doesn't need to be recycled.

9. If my news site is makes a mistake, they correct the original
story, and when I read that story later, I will see the corrected
version. My newspaper may not be broken, but it could be wrong.

10. I can read my news site in a light breeze.

He then adds one more:

But I think the most important reason for reading a news site is this:

11. In the past ten years, my news site has gone from a tiny
experiment to being the place I turn to for news and community. In
the past ten years, my newspaper... well, how many people can say
their newspaper has become more relevant, trustworthy and useful?

Posted by Tim Porter at 05:41 AM | Comments (2)

September 05, 2005

10 Reasons to Read the Newspaper

Tom Rouillard, a veteran of both print and online news, posts this "Top 10 Reasons for Still Reading a Newspaper" list to the online news group:

1. The newspaper has never burned my lap. (Macs run hot!)

2. The flight attendant has never told me to put my newspaper away.

3. I can read my newspaper while standing, while eating, while riding a bus.

4. I can give my newspaper to someone else when I am done.

5. I can read the A section while my wife reads the metro section. (My add: In fact, this is the primary reason given the San Jose Mercury News for abandoning its combined local-national-international A-section and returning to the traditional A-section/Metro split. [Read: Snarking vs. Supporting Change.]

6. My newspaper's battery never dies.

7. If my newspaper gets wet, I can buy another for about a buck.

8. I can recycle my newspaper at the curb.

9. If I drop my newspaper, it doesn't break.

10. I can read my newspaper during a lightning storm.

I'll add this one: I can use my newspaper to catch the clippings when I trim my beard.

Posted by Tim Porter at 04:40 AM | Comments (3)

September 03, 2005

Journalism by Every Means Necessary

One reason I have been writing less these past few weeks on First Draft - aside from the temporal summer slump and yet another plunge into Mexican real estate - is that I have run out of patience.

These days, when someone from a newspaper or a journalism school asks me to join a panel about the future of journalism or address the question of why a newspaper should have blogs, my inner response is a scream: You are slipping into irrelevance! You have an analog product in a digital world! Your economic platform is dying! You must do something! Now, go read my stuff for the last two years, and Jarvis and Rosen and Yelvington and Thompson and Sands and Robinson and the Readership Institute. Then let's talk.

Issue fatigue? Certainly that's some of it, although as I told my friend Tom Abate (MiniMediaGuy) the other day I'm still hooked on journalism crack. More so, there's a sense of preaching to the choir - of which I am only a volunteer member. I cannot make a living telling newspapers to change or helping them work through the issues that prevent them from doing so. As a smart women told me recently: Remember, this is an industry that thinks spending $1,000 on something is a lot of money. So, I have been paying the rent working with non-journalists, folks who think the future belongs to those who invest in it and that change is an opportunity for growth not a dangerous tampering with tradition.

In this sense, I haven't lost my voice, but I may be losing faith in the audience. And that saddens me. When I see the tremendous amount of good newspaper and online journalism that accompanies a horrific event like Hurricane Katrina, when I witness the normal glibness of broadcast reporters give way to truly emotional truth-telling of human suffering around them and when I and others acknowledge the deep, prescient reporting about a disaster that could have been prevented had public officials heeded the warnings of journalists, I want all this to survive on a large scale. But in order for newspapers to continue to generate the revenue necessary to fund this breadth and depth of reporting, they must reinvent their economic and editorial models. Otherwise, quality journalism will be limited to those who can pay for it, to those who subscribe to specialty magazines or newsletters. The masses, those most dependent on a government that is continually under the watchdog's eye, will be left with the chaff, the free, understaffed, poorly reported newspapers, the crime-ridden TV news reports and the growing mass of celebrity journalism.

The journalism gap is already real. It will widen and our communities will be the poorer for it.

I am writing this because I am on a plane bound for Argentina, to a conference on "periodismo y comunicación en Internet," where I will speak about how blogs can be part of a future for Pan-American journalism. Next month, I will do the same thing at the APME conference. In both cases, I have very little time and am unsure how to make the time meaningful.

Do I let loose the inner scream (You are dying! Change!) or proceed more patiently as if I were convincing a child to try something new (Have a taste; it won't hurt.)? Can you explain the nature of cancer and the need for treatment to someone in 20 minutes?

I suspect I'll do both - and rely heavily on the thinking of people more patient people than I.

I'll tell them that Jeff Jarvis says that blogging is a metaphor for shift in the publishing paradigm and a tool that puts a digital printing press within keyboard's reach of anyone.

I'll tell them that 45 percent of Americans believe little or nothing printed in newspapers (so found the Pew Center) and the transparency a blog can bring to the reporting, editing and sourcing process can go a long way to restoring that credibility.

I'll them how blogging editor John Robinson of the Greensboro News & Record sees blogs as "yet another way to reach readers with relevant information about their community and their lives" without conceding ground on journalistic principles. "Our blogs," says Robinson, "particularly those written by news reporters -- adhere to all the traditional journalistic principles of integrity, objectivity and fair play."

I'll them tomorrow's newspaper audience is already online and today's moving there at an increasing rate. One-in-five people who call themselves newspaper readers primarily use the paper's online edition rather than read articles in print, Nielsen/NetRatings found this year.

I'll tell them that more than 4-in 10 younger people - those between 18 and 34 - use Yahoo and MSN at least once a day for news, found Merrill Browns' aptly named report, Abandoning the News.

I'll tell them that blogging can deepen beat reporting and help develop new sources, as it has for Todd Bishop, the Microsoft reporter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

I'll tell them that blogging is fun, something the newspaper industry needs more of.
Says Michael Landauer, of the Dallas Morning News editorial page blog: "So why do we blog? … It's fun. It's another outlet. … As creative people, aren't we always striving for that? I mean, where else would I have written about the greatest movie lines this week?"

I'll tell them that journalists who serve communities, whether geographic or virtual, will survive the radical remaking now under way in the profession. Blogs create community by enabling and encouraging interaction. They enable journalism to extend into the community and they empower the community to commit journalism. As Hodding Carter said, "Don't cover the community, be the community." Look to the role Craigslist New Orleans and played in the Katrina aftermath for survivors and their families.

I'll tell them the advertising money we need to pay for journalism is following the audience online and we need to get our share of it. Online newspaper advertising is on a $2 billion/annual run rate and growing year over year at about 40 percent, says the Newspaper Association of America.

I'll tell them that Technorati, last "State of the Blogosphere" report says number of blogs - now at 14.2 million (55 percent active) doubles every 23 weeks, with major spikes occurring in the midst of big news events like the London bombing. The next report likely will show another jump from Katrina.

And, finally, just to scream a little bit, I'll tell them change or die.

Posted by Tim Porter at 05:41 PM | Comments (5)

September 02, 2005

Citizen? Journalist? She's Both

Emily Metzger, a community columnist for the Shreveport (La.) Times, is using her personal blog to convey the passion, urgency and anguish felt by so many other journalists during the tragedy along the Gulf Coast. She writes (my emphasis):

"I don't care how many efficient federal or state press conferences announce that the relief process is underway. It's not enough.

"I don't care how many dry, well-fed but no doubt anguished officials proclaim to the world that help is on the way. It's not enough.

"There are still thousands of people trapped in New Orleans and they're starting to die. Whatever's being done is not enough."

Steve Outing, who pointed to Metzger in this post, notes correctly that "traditional news organizations have limited resources and appear to be having trouble covering everything, because the scope of the devastation is so wide."

This coverage gap, one not so much of facts and figures and running news, but of personal voice unscrubbed by the filters of traditional newswriting, is being filled by people like Metzger and web operations like Craigslist. (Read these "lost and found" posts from Craigslist, New Orleans.)

Traditional journalists, many working under horrific conditions, both professional and personal, have done wonderful work (just as they did after 9/11). But as Metzger said, it is not enough. This tragedy, so human in its toll, needs to be reported in the voices of the people. Blogs give them the power to do that.

Posted by Tim Porter at 02:03 PM

September 01, 2005

Prescient Reporting

The big journalism picture easily gets lost in the day-to-day minute-to-minute reporting of a disaster the size of Hurricane Katrina.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune, forced to be a web-only "paper" by the flooding (and thereby displaying the power of the web to connect communities when print fails) foretold of the destruction in its 2002 series, Washing Away, which forecast:

"It's only a matter of time before South Louisiana takes a direct hit from a major hurricane. Billions have been spent to protect us, but we grow more vulnerable every day."

... and warned of the perils of an evacuation dependent on private transportation:

"... evacuation offers the best chance for survival. But for those who wait, getting out will become nearly impossible as the few routes out of town grow hopelessly clogged. And 100,000 people without transportation will be especially threatened."

It is that 100,000, mostly poor, mostly African American people who are now stranded in the submerged city.

Read the whole thing. How prepared is your community? What segments would be left behind in a natural disaster? What type of journalism can you do to prevent that from happening?

UPDATE, 9/2: Tim Rutten of the L.A. Times adds the New York Times and NPR news organizations that forecast the disaster in New Orleans. He writes (my emphasis):

These days, media criticism has become a kind of blood sport. One of its practitioners' most frequently repeated complaints is that mainstream news organizations have become increasingly — if not solely — reactive, retailing the sensation of the moment to an audience hooked on titillating irrelevancies.

Well, that didn't happen here.

Three years ago, New Orleans' leading local newspaper, the Times-Picayune, National Public Radio's signature nightly news program, "All Things Considered," and the New York Times each methodically and compellingly reported that the very existence of south Louisiana's leading city was at risk and hundreds of thousands of lives imperiled by exactly the sequence of events that occurred this week. All three news organizations also made clear that the danger was growing because of a series of public policy decisions and failure to allocate government funds to alleviate the danger.

Posted by Tim Porter at 03:52 PM | Comments (1)

Dangerous Ground in New Orleans

Want to know what it's like to be a reporter right now in New Orleans? Here's an unsigned entry to the N.O. Times-Picayune's news blog (search for Gordon):

Thursday, 3:45 p.m.

Across the city Thursday, the haunting fear of flooding was
replaced by a raw fear for life and public safety.

Navigating the St. Thomas area of the Lower Garden District in an SUV, Times-Picayune reporter Gordon Russell, accompanied by a photographer from The New York Times, described a landscape of lawlessness where he feared for his life and felt his safety was threatened at nearly every turn.

At the Superdome and Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, Russell said
throngs of hungry and desperate people displaced by the flood overwhelmed the few law enforcement or miliatary personnel present.

"There was no crowd control," Russell said. "People were swarming.
It was a near riot situation. ..."

Russell witnessed a shootout between police and citizens near the
Convention Center that left one man dead. ... Police, perhaps caught off guard by their sudden arrival on the scene, slammed Russell and the photographer against a wall and threw their gear on the ground as they exited their SUV to record the event.

... Almost everywhere Russell went Uptown, one of the few relatively dry areas in Orleans Parish, he said he felt the threat of violence.

"There is a totally different feeling here than there was yesterday
(Wednesday)," said Russell. ... "I'm scared. I'm not afraid to admit it. I'm getting out of here."

Bad stuff.

Posted by Tim Porter at 03:46 PM

Finding Purpose in Journalism

The morning news today brought more tales of tragedy, devastation and personal loss. At the kitchen table, early, the night's darkness still lingering outside, I read in the papers about the deepening horror in New Orleans, the all-too-human parade of death in Iraq and, closer to home, the wanton shooting of a retired 67-year-old nurse in a drug-ridden neighborhood of the Bay Area.

A picture of refugees in New Orleans pressed face to face as they struggled, uncharitably, to gain seats on buses evacuating them from the city reminded me of a photograph I took long ago in my first experience with journalism - and of my father, who died a year ago today.

In 1974, as part of the infamous Patty Hearst kidnapping, Hearst's father acceded to a demand of the kidnappers and paid for a food giveaway in a poor, black neighborhood in San Francisco. Thousands of people showed up and, as bags of food were tossed to the throng from the back of trucks, order broke down, the scene turned violent and people clawed at one another for loaves of bread. I was there, a journalism student, my small Pentax camera loaded with Tri-X, filling the two rolls of film I had brought. The pictures I made were amateurish and long gone, but the roiling scene, and especially the images of those desperate, angry faces, stay with me. I knew even then, instinctively, that within those faces lie the purposes of journalism.

I don't think those purposes have changed a bit in these last three decades. And, perhaps as journalists, especially newspaper journalists with their proud traditions, can find direction and purpose and passion in the faces the morning news - the all-day news - brings us from New Orleans and from our local communities, where sweet, beloved old ladies who want their grandchildren to be able to live without finding needles on the street are gunned down in their gardens.

This sounds idealistic, I know, and perhaps also a bit dated in an age when journalists and analysts, myself included, talk of innovation and change and "product." But idealism is a powerful force and newspapers need to not only work on innovation and change and "product" but continue find ways to invigorate and unleash idealism within their ranks in order to create a journalism of purpose and not just one of market. (I am sure the staffs of the Gulf Coast newspapers - from the flooded Times-Picayune in New Orleans to the Sun Herald in Biloxi are coursing with purpose right now.)

And my father? What has this to do with him? When I think of the good work journalism can do and the powerful forces that pulled me into it, I think of him because he was proud of what I did. I was young and still adrift in 1974, a condition that separated me from my father, a man with seven children and a wife to feed who had neither the time nor the patience for dalliance on life's direction. When journalism gave me a purpose, and a career, he and I became closer. I came to understand his world, and he mine.

That's what good journalism is good for - understanding, connection, communication. As we struggle to reinvent our news organizations for an uncertain future, I believe these core purposes will help us find our way.

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Posted by Tim Porter at 08:17 AM