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The Carnival Takes Off

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I always enjoyed carnivals growing up.  You never knew what to expect — new games, rides, foods just around the corner.   And, such an eclectic group of people that often looked and acted strangely :)

I think what David Cohn had in mind when he re-started the Carnival of Journalism was bringing together a diverse group of folks who would exchange ideas and maybe shake things up in the process. Cohn got just that Wednesday when a Google Groups discussion between Carnistas ranged over a variety of topics, spanning over two days and 70 e-mail exchanges.

The extended thread prompted this reply from the rad one:  “This thread brought tears to my eyes ;)  I never want to dictate where the Carnival goes – I just wanted to create a forum where once a month we can tackle the same topic.”

It all started with a relatively simple question from Lisa Williams, one of my favorite “new media” types out there:

I’m a judge for the Online Journalism Awards this year.

When I did it last year, one of the things that captivated me was that the discussions between the judges revealed that our basic ideas of what “good” is when it comes to journalism are changing because of the web and mobile technology.

I’d love to do a question about what we SHOULD be rewarding when we’re handing out prizes for the **Online** News Association — but I need a little help writing the question.

My sense is that the Online Journalism Awards have to be about more than solid reporting or social impact; the winners should reflect what we believe is excellent in the use of the web or mobile technology, too.

A relatively simple question, but the answers prompted a conversation that spanned criteria for contests to what makes for a successful business model to Thomas Jefferson.  It was a classic “online discussion” — starting on one topic and branching off into a variety of areas.

At one point, Chris Anderson commented on the idea that innovation and experimentation were more welcome in academia than in the news industry:  “I might say that academia currently (temporarily?) has more money to do more things than the journalism profession at the moment, and that the ability to ‘innovate’ in academia is primarily (paradoxically?) a consequence of that historical anomaly known as ‘tenure.’ Since we’re going all off topic here ;-)”

Lisa’s reply:  “Off topic forever, baby!”

Lisa’s original query promoted some interesting replies, including:

Mark Plenke:

“Number one for me is using the right storytelling tool for the job. A good site uses text and graphics to explain, video to illustrate and capture action and emotion, audio to bring interviews alive, interactive graphics to illustrate a process and involve viewers, social media and polls to involve visitors and get them to participate. I think understanding this is what makes a great online editor. Too many sites don’t get this.”

Anna Tarkov made a number of interesting points during the discussion, including this:

“I would add that engaging your readers substantively (not just: send
us a photo! like us! follow us!) is important as well as being open
and transparent about the news gathering and reporting processes. This
is still mostly not done, to the detriment of both news orgs and news
consumers.”

Tanja Aitamurto sought some clear criteria:

“Whether awarding exploration i.e. trying out new things, and bringing value to journalism that way or success (usually involves risk taking than the former option): solutions where technology is used in an efficient fashion and increases transparency in journalistic practices.”

Paul Bradshaw:

“I was one of the judges on the Press Association’s Regional Press Awards and as the title was ‘digital innovation’ that’s what we looked for – something that pushed the form forward. I also took into account whether they were having to produce to a deadline (the winner was a piece of live data journalism), how sustainable the innovation was, and how it played not just online but in print as well.”

J-Lab’s Jan Schaffer made some important points along the same lines:

It seems to me that an important component is whether a new idea actually “works.”   Cool tools are nice.  Advances in new processes for doing journalism are great.  New ways to tell stories are still being invented.   But who paid any attention?  Did it actually engage audiences? Prompt interactions? Have impact?  Or are we still at risk of talking to ourselves?

University of Nebraska Dean Gary Kebbel (an ONA judge with Lisa) also weighed in on the opportunities available in academia:

“And although we at the University of Nebraska are trying to get on the innovation path, I’m regularly reminded how, well, academic, our thoughts can be when we try to tell news organizations here’s what they should be trying. But an active combo of innovative J profs who get news and digital tools and who know how to make that into digital news tools – in combination with newsroom editors grinding it out every day with no budget – seems to me a great way to work on creating the new culture of innovation and culture of constant change that we need.”

Geoffrey Samek became passionate when some (me) wondered whether ONA was becoming too focused on gadgety gimmicks:

“Over focus on technology? It is an award focusing exclusively on “online” and a big part of that is technology and how tech changes journalism. ONLINE! Collection and innovative processes that take place in the real world are by definition offline….In a world where tech is flying forward at an exponential rate, journalism’s baby-step technological advances are killing me.

Journalism is about informing the community for positive change by collecting, reporting and inevitably organizing information in compelling ways. Technology has an enormous ability to aid in the organization of information. Tech allows for assembling and displaying information in unheard of ways. When humans use new tech to do that, then they are fully taking advantage of Online Journalism.”

Michael Rosenblum suggested profitability as a criterium, which took the discussion into another direction:

“I will never understand the inherent antipathy most journalists have toward making money.  It is in our DNA, strangely, and it is incredibly self-destructive.  The ‘Internet Revolution’ took place not only on our watch but on our turf.  Most of the primary online start-ups were largely journalism/information based.  Yet we stood by idly as others benefited from 100+ years of our labor to lay the groundwork.  What is Craigslist but an iteration of the newspaper classifieds.  What is Google, in fact, but ‘all the news fit to print’.  Movies are replete with our own image of ourselves: note Russell Crowe as a newspaper journalist in State of Play:  unshaven, generally drunk, drives a crap car, hard working, dedicated but poor.  What is our problem here?  If we OWN the product we can call the shots.  And we CAN own the product.  But we have to embrace the notion of making money and building businesses as a good not an evil.”

A few took issue with Michael’s point, including myself:

“@Michael — I take your point but not sure there is the antipathy you reference today, judging by the number of pieces being written daily in the ‘Paywalls are Stupid’ vs. ‘Paywalls Will Save The World’ debate.  Making money is very much on the minds of journalists these days.  But, to get back to Lisa’s original question, we’re talking about rewarding journalism, not the making of money.  Although, I wonder whether ONA should have a separate award for ‘Innovative Business Models’ — something beyond trying to reinvent the wheel with paywalls.”

And Dan Gillmor:

“I’ve seen absolutely no evidence that the percentage of journalists who believe this (‘profit is evil’)  is higher than the percentage of the entire population that believes it.”

And Lisa Williams:

“As someone from the tech industry — where we have few of the internal conflicts about money I observe among journalists, I’m not sure that I would put profitability as a criteria for an award series about innovation.

Many people are under the misapprehension that Silicon Valley startups are primarily concerned with making money. This is not true: they’re about getting big (by growing their userbase). In fact, many “successful” startups lose huge quantities of money for years (*cough* twitter *cough*). The idea is to get big and then sell the entire company to a large publicly traded company at a profit.

That’s not always the same as making money either (witness News Corp’s buyout of MySpace, basically a billion dollars down the drain).

If Twitter was judged on the same basis as the Guardian’s local experiment, it would be history. Most mature companies and industries don’t have the stomach for five years of multimillion dollar investment at a loss that the tech industry does, particularly when there’s no exit market (who will the Guardian sell the Local to?).”

And Daniel Bachhuber:

“Responding to Michael’s point of profitability, I think a better
criterium is “viability”. News organizations should be awarded for
intelligent internal technology investments they’re committed to for
the long term. I’d love there be the proper incentives (e.g.
journalism awards) for news executives to support visions like Matt
Waite’s
.

And, much much more….

The good news?  This discussion will continue.  Lisa will be the wrangler for next month’s Carnival of Journalism.  The topic?   You guessed it….more of the same.

Media Reform: Look to Curation, Innovation to Bring Change

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Somewhere during the run-up to the 2000 election, I remember legendary Washington Post columnist David Broder writing about the increasing split within the country along the Blue (liberal) – Red (conservative) divide.  I guess what I saw this weekend at the National Conference on Media Reform is a reaffirmation that the divide is alive.

This was a conference for the like-minded where bashing the media was second only to booing conservatives.

There was no denying the political undercurrent that was present throughout most of the conference.  Which I guess was to be expected.  But the underlying message — at both panels and on the conference Twitter feed — was that big media was failing and that somehow that failure allows the conservative message to gain more traction.  The irony is, conservatives say the same thing.

So, when we talk about “media reform,” what exactly are we talking about?  In the end, it really comes down to two things:  What the media is covering and how they are covering it.

Yet, for all the talk about reform this weekend, I’m not sure many attendees at this weekend’s conference understand the power that they have.  The focus seemed to be more on the failure of major print and television news organizations rather than the possibilities available to all through online journalism (or new media if you prefer.)

At several sessions Saturday attendees heard some optimism — and some key phrases.  Here’s a key-word rundown and what they could mean for true media reform:

No barriers to entryASU’s Dan Gillmor started the day talking about how the barriers to entry into journalism are gone.  David Cohn ended the day at his panel talking about how the barriers to entry into journalism are gone.  In simplest terms, that means if you think there is not enough coverage on a particular issue, then you can provide it.  Pick your issue, start your blog, shoot video to put on the blog and start engaging with your audience about the issue.  There was much passion at this conference.  Take all that passion and apply in to a blog.  Make the passion work for you!  It’s better and more productive than whining endlessly about the state of the media.

Collaboration.  The old models are disappearing.  It’s no longer a one-way conversation.  If you approach a news organization and say you want to write a blog for them, or provide photos or other content, chances are they will say yes.   The same goes for journalism schools — more and more journalism schools are searching for issues to have their students report on.

Curation.  For me, the best session today was listening to NPR’s Andy Carvin and others talk about the power of Twitter.  If you aren’t following @acarvin on Twitter, you should.  Since the uprising in Egypt, Carvin, along with Nick Kristoff of the New York Times have been transforming real-time reporting before our very eyes.  Carvin sees himself as a real-time Twitter news anchor, sifting through eyewitness report to determine what is accurate and what is rumor.   The future lies with online journalism and revolutionaries like Carvin.  If you’re looking for media reform, watch what Carvin is doing.

The Next Generation. Finally, the last panel of the day Saturday featured David Cohn and Jackie Hai in a panel titled “Journalism Next” focusing on what these young entrepreneurs are doing.  Jackie is a UMass Journalism alumnae who took my first Multimedia Journalism class at UMass and I’ve known David for more than four years, since we worked together on newassignment.net.  They are each involved in exciting projects and see nothing but hope for the future.  Follow their work.  Both are deeply immersed in the online journalism space and are part of the group of great innovators reforming media.

Journo Bashing Dominates Day 1 at NCMR

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After Day 1 at the National Conference for Media Reform Friday, one young journalist told me that she felt like the enemy.  Indeed.

I’ll admit, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this conference.  Partly because when we talk about “media reform” it’s kind of like talking about ice cream with your cake.  Who doesn’t want it?

But, the danger behind that phrase is that the conversation quickly turns into a highly critical one and the conversation turns to media-bashing.  But, hey, media-bashing is fun.  We all do it.  I think it’s in line to become an Olympic sport.  Journo-bashing reached crescendo levels with Glenn Greenwald’s comments about the New York Times and Bill Keller And, while Greenwald’s comment about Keller’s “pristine socks” was amusing, his commentary did little to critically analyze the role of the mainstream media in the Wikileaks dumps, the future of such dumps and how they should be handled.   It could have been a pretty good conversation.

Journo bashing is cheap.

It’s low-hanging fruit.

And, honestly, it does little to advance the conversation.

Everywhere you turned yesterday, activists were lamenting the lack of a liberal perspective in media coverage.  Again, a fairly laughable point but one heard often in the echo chamber here.  To those making such claims, go ask a conservative from Texas about what they think about the New York Times.

Listen, we all know what the issues are.  But, let’s not spend time journo-bashing.  It’s time to look at the Journalism playing field and see solutions and opportunities.

One of the opening panels yesterday was headlined as:  “Collaboration Trumps Competition:  Breaking Down Barriers Between Citizens, Newsrooms and Journalists.”  Some of the smartest, most creative minds looking at the future of journalism were on the panel:  Jan Schaeffer, David Cohn, Susan Mernit and Lisa Williams spoke about how those in the audience could collaborate and become a part of journalism.

But, instead, during the question-and-answer session, those in the audience lamented the difficulties in motivating citizen journalists and one attendee even asked about ‘monetizing’ their product.  People seemed to be missing the point, and that only continued yesterday.

My hope is that the tenor changes today.  There are many forward-looking journalists out there that are experimenting with different platforms and ways to present news.  The passion and drive that seems to be present at this conference can be applied to citizen journalism efforts.   But, it’s not easy.  You can’t just turn on a switch and become a journalist.  There is training and procedures involved.  There are plenty of opportunities out there but it takes time and effort.

It’s easy to bash journalism.  It’s a little harder to get involved with and change the way things are done.

 

 

 

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