Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 1 Feb 11 22:52
Journalism is in a powerful and challenging transition brought on by the appearance of new digital forms of media, the emergence of many low cost or free information channels delivered via the Internet and competing aggressively for mindshare, and the collapse of business models for publishing as these new technologies replace print and broadcast as default options for delivery of information. At the same time, innovative new methods and models for the practice of journalism are beginning to emerge - data journalism, news applications, citizen and collaborative journalism, and nonfprofit news organizations, to name a few. We've asked a group of leading journalists to convene as a panel here in Inkwell for the next couple of weeks. We'll be exploring innovative new thinking about journalism, and talk about the state and future of the art. Our panel: Scott Rosenberg is a writer, editor and website builder. These days he's working on MediaBugs.org. He wrote _Say Everything and Dreaming in Code_. He was co-founder and managing editor of Salon. Peter Lewis teaches digital journalism and news reporting at Stanford University. Before that he was a Knight Fellow at Stanford researching business models for digital journalism. His journalism career has gone from hot lead to cold type to warm electrons and includes long stretches at The Des Moines Register, The New York Times, and Fortune magazine. In 1996 he helped start an Internet company that charged people for quality online editorial content. It failed. Andrew Haeg co-founded the Public Insight Network in 2003 and has helped build it into a fast-growing platform for journalistic sourcing and audience engagement. Haeg was a correspondent for The Economist for seven years, has worked as a public radio business and economics reporter, and was a 2008-2009 Knight Professional Journalism Fellow at Stanford University, where he focused on leading change and innovation in journalism and developing a prototype for the next-generation Public Insight Network. Tony Deifell is managing director of Q Media Labs, which explores questions of how to change the world through media, technology and business. The Lab develops new projects and provides strategy consulting & leadership training for clients such as The Media Consortium, The Democracy Alliance, Google, UCLA and Community Wealth Ventures (Knight Foundation grantees) among others. Recent work includes The Big Thaw: Charting a New Course for Journalism and case studies about Mother Jones, AlterNet, Sierra Club and Brightcove.s online media business models. Kevin Anderson is a freelance journalist and digital strategist with more than a decade of experience with the BBC and the Guardian. Last year, he teamed up with British social media pioneer, Suw Charman-Anderson, and he now works with international and national news organisations around the world to develop and execute digital journalism strategies and prepare their staffs for the future. He is a frequent speaker at conferences and events around the world. Jon Lebkowsky is Chief Digital Officer of Plutopia Productions and Executive Editor at the Plutopia News Network. Jon is a technology developer, writer, editor, and activist, and is well known as a forward-looking pioneer of the Internet and technoculture. He is president of the nonprofit EFF-Austin. and was co-editor of the book Extreme Democracy. He has written for FringeWare Review, Wired Magazine, Mondo 2000, bOING bOING, 21C, the Austin Chronicle, and many other publications.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 1 Feb 11 22:57
I want to welcome our distinguished guests to Inkwell and to this conversation about the new digital-era world of journalism. And thanks to the WELL for giving us this venue for this relevant and important discussion. To open the conversation, I'd like to invite each of you to describe your thoughts about the current state of journalism, focusing on the best new thinking about the profession. What's happening that's exciting, and makes you feel optimistic about the future?
Andrew Haeg (andrewhaeg) Wed 2 Feb 11 17:21
I'm most excited about networked journalism -- the kind of journalism made possible by new tools and networks that allow journalists to connect directly with knowledgeable sources. Journalists have developed an uncomfortably servile relationship with professionals trained to handle the press, be they politicians, public relations managers, etc. We're just beginning to see what's possible when journalists have the ability to circumvent the message controllers by efficiently reaching out to many people with relevant expertise. I believe networked journalism will make reporting more of an act of discovery and exploration, rather than one of searching for puzzle pieces that fit a pre-determined idea of what the story is.
Scott Rosenberg (scottros) Wed 2 Feb 11 17:28
I feel like I've been having "future of journalism" conversations for 20 years now! So in a sense, for me, the future is here. We're living it. Over and over, predictions that Internet-smart observers made have been ignored by "experts" and yet proven true: *The Web would disintermediate powerful gatekeepers of previous eras -- and introduce its own new set of gatekeepers *The Web would gradually and steadily erode the economic value of individual pieces of journalism, thanks to (a) abundance of free or low-cost contributions and (b) disintegration of the old mass advertising regime *The Web would introduce new forms of business support for journalism that wouldn't look like the old ones (i.e., Google text ads) *The Web would disintegrate the old bundle of stuff that we thought of as a media product and force us to reassemble new bundles that make more sense in the new medium So all of these changes, and more, have removed the entire superstructure around journalism itself that we thought of as stable. It's a new world. Uncomfortable in some ways, exciting in others. What's always been exciting to me, and keeps me optimistic, are these factors: *For now, at least, vast quantities of good journalism from around the world are more widely available to people who seek it than ever before in history *The opportunity for people to conduct their own acts of media criticism by linking and citing sources and posting critiques is more widely distributed than ever before *We all have at least the opportunity to challenge our own entrenched views by seeking out the best arguments by those we disagree with (yes, too few of us avail ourselves of this...) *Journalism as a paid profession is in crisis but journalism as an activity pursued by dedicated amateurs is thriving. Experts in many fields are able to contribute their perspectives directly through blogs and other online channels in ways that both undermine the authority of generalist journalism of the old school but also improve upon it. * We idealize how good it was for the journalism profession in the old days. In the late '70s when I started out, there were "no jobs." Magazines and newspapers were folding left and right. It was a dead end field but people like me entered it anyway -- just as talented young people still do today.
Peter Lewis (peterlewis) Wed 2 Feb 11 17:46
First, Jon, thanks for organizing this discussion, and for starting us off with a question that steers us toward a warmer, sunnier view of the future of journalism. Its been almost 40 years since I drew my first paycheck as a professional journalist as a cub reporter and photographer for weekly Osawatomie Graphic-News in Kansas and I can say without hesitation that this is the most exciting time in my career to be in the journalism business. I can write this despite the fact that Im among the thousands of veteran journalists who lost their jobs in the contraction of the traditional publishing business. Why exciting? Why the optimism? Let me turn that around: Why the handwringing and rending of garments? Yes, were seeing an almost total collapse of the traditional business models of journalism, in which a relatively small number of publishers formed a lucrative (to them) oligopoly. When companies gain monopoly or oligopoly control of an industry, they often stop innovating. The decline of the newspaper industry, for example, started in the 1940s, before the inventors of the Internet were out of short pants. And while Im hardly a Bolshevik, its hard for me to lament the current struggles of corporate news organizations that fire their top investigative reporters for budget reasons on the same day they pay $14 million for pictures of Brad and Angelinas new baby. What were seeing today is a profusion of new journalism outlets, a greater diversity of voices, and a healthy new interest in the technology of newsgathering and dissemination. Its all quite a mess right now, but a happy mess, unless youre one of the folks still clinging to the old business models (Rupert Murdoch excluded). The thing to remember is that there are important distinctions among journalism, infotainment, and the media on which they travel. Its worrisome that lots of people confuse journalism with infotainment of the sort practiced by Fox News, and Im sorry to see The Washington Post and The New York Times shuttering news bureaus. But theres more good journalism being done today than ever before; its just scattered in more places. And despite the horror stories about the financial state of the industry, there are lots of bright young men and women who are studying journalism and willing to invent a viable business model for it. Ive got 30 of them in my graduate journalism classes at Stanford and they inspire me every day.
Tony Deifell (tony-deifell) Wed 2 Feb 11 18:05
Good to meet you all. Thanks or organizing this, Jon. I'm excited about measurement, journalist-as-entrepreneur, story-telling innovations, location-aware mobile, and converting users' reputational value among many other things. Although I've thought and written a lot about the future of journalism, I have more questions than answers on the topic. I can tell you one set of questions that that currently peak my interest. Will online media exacerbate "the big sort" (Bill Bishop), where people further sort themselves into balkanized communities based on beliefs & opinions? What will happen to people's point of view with the rise of personalized news? (Have you all seen NYTimes new recommendation engine? - http://www.nytimes.com/recommendations) Will personalized filtering and the abundance of news sources ultimately make people more self-focused and fragmented in like-minded groups? I'm not talking about the Web's potential here, but rather about what is happening behaviorally. I agree with Scott that we have at least the opportunity to challenge our own entrenched views, and with Peter that we have more diverse voices than ever, but how are news consumers behaving? What are the long-term effects on political rhetoric & gridlock - and on democracy? And, most importantly, are there better design solutions to online balkanization that build upon what people want instead of what we believe they "should" want?
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 2 Feb 11 20:11
Say more about "design solutions to online balkanization." To me the biggest challenge for all of us, journalists and readers alike, is in what David Weinberger refers to as "the plenum." He talks about the "assumption of abundance an abundance of information, links, people, etc. Our brains have difficulty comprehending the abundance we now have. There are so many people on line that the work of 1% can create something that boggles the mind of the other 99%. As more people come on line, that rule of 1% will become a rule of 0.01% and then 0.001%. The curve of amazement is going straight up. "The abundance means we will fill up every space we can think of. We are creating plenums (plena?) of sociality, knowledge and ideas, and things (via online sensors). These plenums fill up our social, intellectual and creative spaces. The only thing I can compare them to in terms of what they allow is language itself." http://www.hyperorg.com/blogger/2010/04/23/fiberfete-and-plenums/ How do we manage this kind of abundance? And how do we have an effective voice among so many others? How does this change the role and work of the journalist?
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Wed 2 Feb 11 20:27
Rupert Murdock didn't waste any time getting to the iPad with http://www.thedaily.com. Shouldn't be long before Apple does some kind of Ping variation for the news on the site. Is this the future? Will there be room for specialization? How do you think all this will affect personal blogging; can they become stringers?
Kevin Anderson (kevinanderson) Thu 3 Feb 11 06:19
Thanks Jon for starting this discussion and apologies for joining late. I'll blame it on time zones. I'll agree with Peter (I got my start at the Hays Daily News in Kansas) that is an amazing time to be in journalism, but now being in London, I'll take a bit of liberty with a classic quote from Dickens. For journalists, it was the most exciting of times. It was the most terrifying of times. First on the terrifying side of the ledger, I think that journalism as it is currently organised is a major industrial operation akin to manufacturing. If we think of the pressures that manufacturing has come under in advanced economies, journalism now finds itself in a similar position, although the competition is not from low-cost labour in a globalised economy but from the piecemeal disruption of traditional streams of revenue, primarily various forms of advertising. Journalists used to have a pretty stable career path and while it might be a stretch to say a job for life, jobs were relatively secure. For those who remain working for news organisations, there are downward pressures on wages. Now, to make the case for it being the most exciting times, we're still in the midst of creating journalism for digital media. I'll agree with Andrew that networked journalism is a major opportunity not only to enrich our journalism but also to build stronger relationships with our audiences. I see networked journalism to not only engage citizens with journalism but also to engage citizens with their democracies. Although I've worked in print, radio, television and the web, my main focus has been digital since 1996. We are still only scratching the surface of developing the grammar of digital story telling. We are still only scratching the surface with engaging our audiences.
Gail Williams (gail) Thu 3 Feb 11 11:04
That's intriguing and exciting. Digital storytelling is being invented collaboratively by professionals and passionate amateurs, which is not at all like the evolution of TV journalism was, it seems to me. For those who would like to tweet, email, FB, blog and otherwise circulate the word of this conversation beyond The WELL's membership, for reading without being logged-in use: http://tinyurl.com/j-panel (Also, you may mail offsite questions to <firstname.lastname@example.org> -- please put the author's name in the subject line, and indicate your first or full name to be posted with your question. Thank you!)
Jo Ann Mandinach (needtono) Thu 3 Feb 11 12:54
Jo Ann Mandinach here. Jon, thanks for pulling together such a great panel. Peter, great to see you here. At a time when Media Matters, AlterNet and others are busily exposing how an organization like Fox News plans and executes its attack journalism like branding Obama as a socialist and how its commentators' rantings have resulted in death threats against bad bad "liberals" like the 78-year-old professor (Francis Fox Pivens) over one of her old papers that no one ever read, it would seem that the digital media could play a much-need and more active role in exposing these lies. If you look at the news article comments in Yahoo news, you'll see all sorts of unsupported rantings and often hate speech yet their system is still incapable of offering links to stories that would undermine some of the rants. The Well, for example, has had that capability for years. A few questions: Why can't "liberal/progressive" groups play a more active role in countering attack journalism? Why does it take The New York Times three weeks to cover stories about political corruption and other abuses that break much more quickly in Huffington Post, Crooks & Liars and AlterNet? Some on The Well posted a link to an excellent expose by Crooks and Liars of about 20 acts of politically motivated violence by the right, tying some of them back to Fox. Why isn't the "mainstream media" doing similar in-depth reporting on this? Thanks.
descend into a fractal hell of meta-truthiness (jmcarlin) Thu 3 Feb 11 15:41
> *The opportunity for people to conduct their own acts of media > criticism by linking and citing sources and posting critiques is more > widely distributed than ever before In the bad old days people accepted what the media published as fact. Often I would or others would be aware of the distortion involved in covering events from a biased perspective either because of political bias or from ignorance. Now only do we have the classic example of Fox, but liberal reporters have also been biased when it comes to reporting. And we've had ignorance of science and religion causing errors and bias in the stories we've read and seen. Now there are voices, for good and ill, challenging that state of the art as you pointed out. Can any of you point us at excellent sites and voices that critique news reports? I know Nate Silver at 538 (now a NY Times blog), does an outstanding job in critiquing polls but what about science and religion and other special areas as well as political and general reporting?
Tony Deifell (tony-deifell) Thu 3 Feb 11 19:25
Jerry, NewsTrust started by Fabrice Florin (http://newstrust.net) is a site that is working on filtering for accuracy, fairness, etc. They have "Truthsquad" (community fact-checking). They're not as much the kind of critique that Nate Silver does, but it's a good site. Seems to me that that sort of news critique is still pretty fragmented. I'm curious to hear other recommendations.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 3 Feb 11 21:10
I'm just wondering if obvious bias is such a bad thing. How objective can we really be? Isn't accuracy more important than complete objectivity?
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Fri 4 Feb 11 06:11
The theme for The Future of Media: (http://briansolis.posterous.com/the-future-of-media-a-conversation-hosted-by) on authentication in journalism..."how this new breed of influencers is shaping what we deem to be "true" sources and facts, and the key media trends to watch" You all have always used sources, what's different about digital access and fact checking these days? Are you setting up collaborative networks of trusted citizens? And do you find yourselves collaborating with them as you create and edit your content?
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Fri 4 Feb 11 06:19
Re:#13 Yes, I would rather know your bias or perspective up front and follow accordingly. Also want to be able to balance that with comments on your sites and open debate as well as tracking sites that are different from my own points of view. As consumers of content, we already have our own biases. I'd like to be able to reinforce and educate myself on the one hand and be aware of the other voices out there that would challenge and break my boxes as well. Anyway, with metrics, etc. we will know your biases in a month's worth of posts, so put a banner up and be as fair and objective as you can. Is that too idealistic or too naive? Would it create a niche audience that doesn't help the economics of your own survival?
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 4 Feb 11 06:52
That Brian Solis link points to an issue I have with the social media side of the equation. Brian Solis is smart, but he's all about marketing, PR, and advertising: selling through media. Guys like Brian, Dave Evans, Chris Brogan, Jeremiah Owyang et al are considered thought leaders about social media, and they're all about customer engagement, i.e. commercial uses of media. But how is "social media marketing" different from spam? If Solis' "new breed of influencers" is an army of PR and marketing professionals and companies recruiting customers, how much harder is it to separate real journalism for variations and degrees of marketing? An illustration of my concern: http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/02/official-chinese-prop aganda-now-online-from-the-wapo/70690/ In this piece, James Fallows points to a section of the Washington Post that looks like it could be a blog about China - but if you read the very-fine print, you see that it's purchased - essentially a well-integrated ad. In social media channels, there's often no fine print. Commercial messages abound.
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Fri 4 Feb 11 08:35
I see it the same way Jon,sort of provoked that one there. It's a growing concern. You get a nice new tech tool with all kinds of new and creative possibilities for whatever, in this case media and journalism, and the marketers and money hawks just spam all over it. Seeing it in reputation management and social reputation areas, as well. Now they are reverse engineering that and targeting you when they find you to be an "influencer" of whatever audience they want to market. Blech! CRM needs to be renamed Corraling Rich Media.Corrupting Reactive Markets. You get the idea. What we need, as you journalists are a hope, is independent content providers that are as free from all this nonsense as possible. I wish you every success and look forward to following you all.
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Fri 4 Feb 11 09:25
descend into a fractal hell of meta-truthiness (jmcarlin) Fri 4 Feb 11 10:06
I've been reading http://www.getreligion.org/ for their reviews of religion reporting. The bloggers are conservative Christians (mostly) and sometimes their choice of topic especially reflects that background, but I've found their critiques mostly accurate. Are any of you familiar with that site?
Gail Williams (gail) Fri 4 Feb 11 11:39
I don't want to obscure <jonl> 's questions about social media marketing, but this article by panelist <scottros> is terrific: <http://open.salon.com/blog/scott_rosenberg/2011/02/03/murdochs_daily_post-web_ innovation_or_cd-rom_flashback> > ...most of the apparatus of two-way communication that every serious digital publishing venture of the past 15 years has taken as a given is missing from the Daily. Very interesting questions!
Kevin Anderson (kevinanderson) Fri 4 Feb 11 12:40
With respect to bias and transparency, I've worked for the BBC, which is required to be objective and provide balance, and I've worked for The Guardian, which wears its politics on its sleeve. I have seen the strengths and limitations of both models. I would say that the presence of the BBC sets a standard for broadcast journalism that is incredibly high and all other broadcasters in the UK must aspire to. Broadcasting is a highly regulated industry in the UK. One thing I would note with respect to newspapers in the UK: The print circulation for The Guardian in the UK was 270,582 in December, dropping 11.35%. It's Sunday title, The Observer dropped 15.4%. Let's compare this with the toxic Daily Mail (Guardian readers call it the Daily Hate). The Mail only saw a 2.2% drop to a circulation of 2.1m, yes that's million. The Mail is rabidly xenophobic. It makes Fox look almost progressive. In the UK, in print, The Guardian is a minority voice under severe economic pressure, even with its foundation funding . The Mail reaches a vastly larger audience and drives UK politics to a much greater degree than The Guardian. Every time I have to deal with increasingly restrictive British immigration policy, I am reminded of this fact. Print journalism in the UK is like cable TV in the US: Heavy on opinion and light on reporting. The objectivity as a the gold standard of journalism versus objectivity as an unattainable goal debate has been going on for most of my 17-year career. I can see how transparency and honesty about one's point of view is important, and I practice it. However, I am reminded of one of the most important lessons one of my journalism professors, Bob Reid, drilled into us at the University of Illinois. Before you go out and report, he said, check your biases. Why? It's not just about the story that you eventually write, it's also about the questions you will or won't ask. I can't count the number of times that I read and story and think, "Why didn't the reporter ask this?" If you go out with a certain idea about a story, you and your readers will never be surprised by what you find.
Kevin Anderson (kevinanderson) Fri 4 Feb 11 12:47
@jmcarlin, in terms of exposing flaws in science reporting and pushing the debate on science, I'd flag up my friend Ben Goldacre, who writes the Bad Science for The Guardian, has an excellent site of the same name, which is quite a bit livelier than its substantiation on The Guardian. http://www.badscience.net/
descend into a fractal hell of meta-truthiness (jmcarlin) Fri 4 Feb 11 14:32
Thankis for the link to badscience.
Tony Deifell (tony-deifell) Fri 4 Feb 11 15:58
Jon, re: "design solutions to online balkanization. Great to see your reference to David Weinberger. When we interviewed him for The Big Thaw, he said that the best-case scenario for journalism is that there will be structures in place that [enable news to] challenge me in ways that I want to be challenged, but that ten years ago I didnt think I wanted to be challenged. The key word to me is want. He doesnt say should. I think that we can often fall prey to the tyranny of should. That is, we focus so much on the way the world should be, that we dont take into account how the world is. I believe we can find ways to bridge what people want individually with what is good for society as a whole. But, this might take some deliberate design solutions in how platforms, user interfaces and communities are structured. I wonder whether people left to their own devices will further sort into like-minded enclaves? NPR had a story about this today in fact (http://n.pr/Cliquey) Bill Bishop says the big sort is largely about self-segregation. We cannot depend solely on the freedom and diversity of the web to counter balkanization. Clay Shirky claims the more that diversity and freedom of choice increases, the more extreme inequality becomes. I agree with Weinbergers comment in our interview: Just as weve worked against (homogeneity) successfully so far, in the sciences especially, we have to work against it in the media too. ( ) If we dont take steps, well just be sheep hanging out with other sheep just like us. If peoples pre-existing interests & opinions determine what they consume online, then how will their viewpoints evolve? In the same direction, I suspect. Because media organizations have less control of information flow today, they can no longer insist that readers should consider different viewpoints. Readers will simply filter it out. But, we can give newsreaders reasons to want to do this by appealing to broader interests; making news entertaining and meeting peoples interest in discovering something new or in forming their own opinion. Im interested in experimenting with design solutions that help achieve this. What new approaches do you all think could work?
Tiffany Lee Brown (magdalen) Fri 4 Feb 11 18:04
as banal and irritating as it can be, Facebook actually provides a glistening nugget of hope in the Internet mud. it can, but doesn't have to, be used to simply promote and validate one's usual POV. if a WELL writer liberal friend posts a link to a news story, complete with comment ("wtf is wrong with those idiot Republicans??") and i re-post it, 900 of my FB friends will likely see it and sort-of agree. but the remaining 200 FB friends may be my saving grace. these are the folks i wouldn't normally hear from or hang out with: someone i sorta knew in high school. someone i went to church with when i was 8 years old. and these people expand my tiny horizons a little. the one who stayed out in the country where we grew up, took over her mom's farm: sad to say, i assumed she was conservative. not at all. she posts Democratic stuff all the time. my Christian missionary cousin. the rancher in Eastern Oregon. i need to hear, even just occasionally, from these people, to remind me that my little enclave of artists and writers and heathen liberal city-dwellers are not the entirety of America. that's a useful thing about how small towns and communities operate, and it can seep back to us online. 200 people in a small rural community can all get along even if they disagree on some major issues, because they are a community. the guy who stops with his big-ass pickup truck to pull your car out of a snowbank doesn't leave you stranded because you've got hippie devil worshipping tree-hugging bumperstickers. he just stops and pulls you out of the snow. and next time you're feeling dismissive about him and people you imagine are like him, you remember being pulled out of the snow, and you squeak your mind open just a tiny bit. i guess i'm encouraged by the idea that this can happen online, along with all the balkanization. i've also seen some (but certainly not all) people come together after wrestling with big issues in comments following blog posts or newspaper articles. for every asshole who posts something evil and inflammatory, there are 25 people trying to have a genuine conversation --- and sometimes showing real signs of grasping each other's situations, of changing their minds. given that journalism is now an interactive, performative sport, i'd like to see more attention paid to its potential for creating mutual understanding between people. to me, this is part of what journalism is for, especially local newspapers. i might not ever think about how it affects people's lives that my city has crappy ADA compliance. if the paper runs an article about an artist-activist who can't get to any performance art shows in her wheelchair, well, now i begin to understand someone else's experience. it seems to me that what happens after something is published is now more important than getting it published in the first place, yet publishers treat the interactivity as an afterthought and marketing tool. sorry, i ran long...
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