inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #0 of 88: Julie Sherman (julieswn) Tue 19 Jul 11 19:02
    
This week we welcome Victor Pickard to Inkwell.vue to discuss the new
book that he co-edited with Robert McChesney: Will the Last Reporter
Please Turn out the Lights (The New Press).

Victor Pickard is an assistant professor in the Department of Media,
Culture, and Communication at New York University. In the Fall of 2011
he will join the Annenberg School for Communication at the University
of Pennsylvania. He received his doctorate from the Institute of
Communications Research at the University of Illinois. Previously he
worked on media policy in Washington, D.C. as a Senior Research Fellow
at the media reform organization Free Press and the public policy think
tank the New America Foundation where he continues to advise their
Open Technology and Media Policy Initiatives. He also taught media
policy at the University of Virginia and served as a policy fellow for
Congresswoman Diane Watson. His research explores the intersections of
U.S. and global media activism and politics, media history, democratic
theory, and communications policy. Currently he is finishing a book on
the history and future of news media.

Leading this interview will be Angie Coiro. Angie is a freelance
interviewer and journalist living on the San Francisco peninsula. Her
radio and television credits include Mother Jones Radio on Air America;
Friday Forum on KQED in San Francisco; and Spotlight! on KCSM-TV.
Angie's the recipient of numerous awards for her interviewing work,
including public radio's national PRNDI award. She shares her 1923
cottage with three cats and countless scavenged artsy bits.

Welcome Victor and Angie!
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #1 of 88: Sam Delson (samiam) Tue 19 Jul 11 20:01
    
Wellcome!
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #2 of 88: Angie (coiro) Wed 20 Jul 11 23:22
    
Hello! Thanks so much for inviting me to conduct the interview for
this one - a topic near, dear, and dangerous to my heart, for obvious
reasons!

Victor, wellcome; I'm glad you could make the time for us.

"The Last Reporter" is a compendium of pieces from names familiar to
anyone paying attention to the crisis in media today - to name a few:
Todd Gitlin, Eric Alterman, Chris Hedges, Thomas Frank. It takes on an
intimidating chore for a single volume, that of cataloging the multiple
blows against established media as we'd known it for so many years;
how our very definition of "news" has become so amorphous; the function
of independent reporters in this uncertain and fluctuating
environment; the proper relationship between government and media; and
- if not a roadmap, at least elements of one - where we go from here.

As we delve into the book, and into the stories around us today that
reflect the themes of the book, I want to remind our readers who are
not Well members that you, too, can participate. Send in your questions
or comments to inkwell at well.com. 
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #3 of 88: Angie (coiro) Wed 20 Jul 11 23:54
    
Victor, let's flesh out this concept of a "crisis" in journalism. I
suspect each of us who cares deeply about the state of the business
might have a slightly different take. There are so many elements; an
awful lot of public play is given the role and impact of the internet,
but less sexy bits - like the fact that young journalists have such a
slim chance of finding a lasting, secure gig, or that older journalists
are wandering a barren desert of no new jobs or a shrinking paycheck -
may seem too "inside football" to matter to the consuming public.

I thought it might be interesting to glom onto a prominent, real-life
lab experiment: the events inside the Murdoch empire. Let's use that as
our specimen to illuminate the crisis at hand.

If there was indeed a heyday of journalism (and please do expound on
your thoughts on that, and those of the book's contributors), how might
this story have played out differently then? 

Could the alleged violations of trespassing and payoffs within a major
press entity have even occurred on such a scale, given a healthy press
here and abroad? 

How would the coverage - in this world of a robust press - look
different than what we're seeing today? How does what we've lost
manifest itself in what's reaching the news consumer about the scandal,
the people behind it, and its implications?
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #4 of 88: Victor Pickard (victorpickard) Thu 21 Jul 11 08:47
    
Hi Everyone! I'm very honored to be a guest at The Well and I'm really
looking forward to this important discussion. 

Angie has opened up with some excellent questions to get us started. I
would break it down into two general areas (which we can expand on
later): the nature of the journalism crisis and alternative models for
news media.

First, the crisis: The journalism crisis really should be viewed as a
crisis for all of us, one that strikes at the potential for democratic
society. Also, the journalism crisis is not just about newspapers,
although since they remain as the primary news-gathering institution in
the U.S., and since they are suffering the most, it makes sense to
focus much of the discussion on the plight of newspapers.

As Angie mentioned, journalism's woes are often treated as a
by-product of the internet revolution. Increasingly people are getting
their news--usually for free--online, and this has blown apart the
advertising-dependent business model of the "dead tree" version of the
press that has functioned for the last 125 years or so. It has also
dramatically changed our relationship with news media (though not in
the ways that we often assume - a point that I'm sure we'll expand on
later).

My aim is to reframe how we understand the journalism crisis, because
differences in how we think of the crisis lead to differences in how we
try to fix it.  

If we think of journalism as a business commodity then its
profitability will dictate its existence (and we may look to online
payment schemes like" paywalls" to prop up the commercial model of
news). But if we think of it as a vital public service that democracy
requires, then we understand that we as a society must ensure its
existence, regardless of whether the market supports it.

Here's another key point, one that serves as a bridge from considering
the nature of the journalism crisis to considering alternatives. The
commercial, advertising-dependent model of news was *always*
structurally vulnerable to fluctuations in the market (the internet
merely acted as a catalyst, but the model has been in decline for
decades). Advertisers never really cared whether there was hard-hitting
investigative reporting or whether there was a news bureau in Baghdad.
They simply wanted to deliver their ads to as many - or perhaps to the
right kind of - eyeballs as possible. And they paid newspapers
handsomely for this service... until it no longer made economic sense
for them to do that (exhibit A: Craigslist).

To show that the current system -- the one that is falling apart:
advertising-dependent news -- was not the inevitable, natural or even
best possible system we may look to historical and international
alternatives (another point we can expand on later).

The commercial profit-driven model of news gave us the Murdoch empire.
The public service model of news has only barely been realized in
models like the BBC and NPR. The current journalism crisis gives us a
fleeting opportunity to abandon the former and bolster the latter. 

In other words, the overarching message in the book that Bob McChesney
and I put together - though not all contributors would agree - is that
now is the time for structural alternatives to the commercial model of
the press. Now is the time to transform a dying advertising-dependent
model of journalism into a true public service model that provides a
forum for diverse voices, scrutinizes governments and corporations, and
offers rich information from a wide variety of sources and viewpoints.
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #5 of 88: Gail Williams (gail) Thu 21 Jul 11 09:10
    
Very exciting perspective!  Welcome.  Inside the members-only sector
of The WELL in the <media.> conference you'll see quite a bit of
informed cynicism.  I like hearing a vision of transformation.
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #6 of 88: descend into a fractal hell of meta-truthiness (jmcarlin) Thu 21 Jul 11 10:33
    

One of the things that have contributed to my personal diminishing reguard
for the news media is lack of quality. Take science and medicine for one
example. There have been endless breathless reports overhyping a finding
and givig the impression that we now have the answer to something. Then, a
bit later, there's another report overhyping that the first report was
wrong. So I tend to distrust anything I read in the news.

I'd therefore like to ask what you think of NewsTrust http://newstrust.net
both in theory and in practice as well as asking you to speak more
generally about how to improve the quality of science, religion and even
political reporting.
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #7 of 88: Victor Pickard (victorpickard) Thu 21 Jul 11 12:29
    
Thank you, Gail. With regard to today's news media, I'd place myself
in the "informed cynics" camp as well, but I'd also like to focus on
how we can make our media better, which goes to jmcarlin's question.
I'm very intrigued by the newstrust model (of course, enough people
would 1) need to know about its existence and 2) need to trust it for
it to be effective). 

I think vibrant media criticism needs to play an important part in
maintaining a healthy news media system (and other bodies of
information like science and religion, as you mention). But - and
you'll notice me harp on this theme a lot - I think we will need to see
major structural change in our broader news media system (i.e.,
minimize market pressures and remove commercial values) for us to see a
profound difference.  
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #8 of 88: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Thu 21 Jul 11 19:28
    
Victor, thanks for being with us...what a fine book...can you speak a
bit about the new models and multi-media platforms that are taking
place, as well as citizen journalism...just a preview, as I imagine it
will take up a lot of our conversation later?
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #9 of 88: Angie (coiro) Thu 21 Jul 11 20:09
    
Yes, please - and do let's hear your reflections on the Murdoch
scandal, through the prism of your work on this book.
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #10 of 88: Victor Pickard (victorpickard) Fri 22 Jul 11 10:47
    
Thanks, Ted. A number of essays in the book focus on new models of the
press and citizen journalism. To mention a few: Yochai Benkler
believes that the "networked public sphere" will - if given time -
organically produce new forms of journalism. He cites ProPublica and
Wikileaks as promising exemplars. Likewise, Jessica Clark's and Tracy
Van Slyke's chapter in our book highlights the emergent potentials for
progressive journalism within our shifting media landscape, including
self-organized networks of media institutions. Finally, another
contributor, Nikki Usher, urges a rethinking of journalism so that
everyday average members of society see it as part of their civic duty
to conduct citizen journalism. She generally sees the
de-professionalization of journalism as not so much of a bad thing, and
welcomes new ventures like Spot.us (where people can bid to fund
journalists' pitches), Minnpost (a non-profit, investigative news
outlet), and the SF Public Press (a noncommercial, community-supported,
public interest newspaper).  

These are all exciting developments. But in the final analysis, I come
down on the view that, taken together, these new models do not come
close to replacing the journalism that is being lost among traditional
outlets. These models generally produce a mere fraction of the
journalism that the old dying newspapers are still providing, and it
remains unclear how they will ever be financially sustainable. I think
new models like news blogs are to be welcomed but we should be clear
about their limitations (Talking Points Memo, a leading news blog,
employs 17 full-time journalists. The New York Times employs around
1200). 

And certainly the breakdown in professional journalist norms like
"objectivity" should be embraced (Chris Hedges savages the practice of
objectivity in our book). But we also need to be sure that people are
paid to go out on a daily basis and systematically gather information
and disseminate it to broader publics. This is still an expensive
process. Good journalism requires institutional and financial support. 

On a sidenote: I would feel more optimistic about these experiments if
we as a society created permanent or at least semi-permanent revenue
streams for them (e.g., R & D subsidies) so that they were not so
dependent on volunteer labor and foundation support.

I'm sure the question of whether we can take solace in new media
models (and let the old models simply wither away) will be an ongoing
debate - it's one of the more contentious points in "future of
journalism" discussions - and we can continue to flesh out the
particulars. In the next post I will briefly discuss the Murdoch
scandal through the prism of our book.  
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #11 of 88: Victor Pickard (victorpickard) Fri 22 Jul 11 11:16
    
The recent News of the World phone hacking scandal that has embroiled
Rupert Murdoch and his News Corporation serves as a convenient case
study for what an over-commercialized media system looks like. This
system, best exemplified by Murdoch's media empire, is governed first
and foremost by profit imperatives. The public service ideal that a
news media system should strive to inform the public is often at odds
with NewsCorp.'s commercial logic. Characteristics that we typically
associate with the bad old early days of the U.S. commercial press -
sensationalism, trivialization, and fear-mongering - define much of
this media. 

This kind of media system, with its concentrated ownership and
political power, could only flourish in the absence of government
regulation, both at the levels of structure (anti-trust laws and media
ownership restrictions) and content (Fairness Doctrine and public
interest obligations). It is telling that this scandal is beginning to
encourage closer scrutiny of Murdoch's media holdings and practices in
the U.S., and some are calling for the FCC and congress to intervene.

Regardless, it would make sense - and we argue this position in our
book - that we might aim to lessen commercial pressures on news
organizations so that these kinds of tendencies in our media system
were discouraged. In this context, we might see a reinvigorated public
media system -- that is, publicly-subsidized media like NPR and the
BBC, as well as many other variations -- as a potential antidote to the
commercial excesses of much of our mainstream news media. 

I will end on that note for now to see if anyone wants to push on this
thread.
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #12 of 88: descend into a fractal hell of meta-truthiness (jmcarlin) Fri 22 Jul 11 11:52
    

I agree but there are right-wing pressures to dismantle NPR and presumably
the BBC as well.
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #13 of 88: descend into a fractal hell of meta-truthiness (jmcarlin) Fri 22 Jul 11 12:25
    

A followup question: with what is going on in Oslo, I went to my #1
source, twitter, and found a recommendation to go to a curated list of
source sponsored by the Washington Post
https://twitter.com/#!/washingtonpost/oslo/

This seems like a wonderful idea where a news organization provides a
filter to the twitter flood and helps people keep track of fast moving
stories without having to subject themselves to an unfiltered twitter
feed. Does this make sense to you as well?
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #14 of 88: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Fri 22 Jul 11 12:57
    
Following up on your response in #10:
<These are all exciting developments. But in the final analysis, I
come
down on the view that, taken together, these new models do not come
close to replacing the journalism that is being lost among traditional
outlets.>

What do you think about journalists using these multi-networked
platforms as sources? And how is fact-checking handled in these new
models?
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #15 of 88: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Fri 22 Jul 11 13:01
    
And a completely different question: As an editor and compiler did you
have any outstanding take-aways from your book? I mean, were there
some things that particularly struck you after you were both done? You
can answer that with respect to both the process of putting this type
of book together as well as the individual contents.
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #16 of 88: . (wickett) Sat 23 Jul 11 07:29
    

From what I read in Anders Behring Breivik's Facebook feed, he has strong
feelings about paying reporters for stories.  Have you reviewed any of his
writings about the media?  Thoughts?
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #17 of 88: Victor Pickard (victorpickard) Sat 23 Jul 11 08:48
    
jmcarlin, you're absolutely right that public broadcasting, especially
in the U.S. (where we remain a global outlier among democracies for
how little public money we put toward our public media), but also in
Britain, is under frequent right-wing attack. But if anything, that
should mean that we redouble our efforts to emphasize the importance of
public media as a structural alternative--and, I would argue,
journalism's last, best hope--to the commercial model.

As for news orgs that aim to help make sense of a fast moving topic
(as in the WashPo twitter filter) or even to just vet a day's news (as
your earlier example of NewsTrust), I think they are helpful tools.
Again, though, it also serves as a kind of gatekeeping function that we
need to critically examine.
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #18 of 88: Victor Pickard (victorpickard) Sat 23 Jul 11 09:27
    
To address Ted's excellent questions -- I think those are great
examples of how new digital media, particularly social media, *can*
lower costs/improve the quality of journalism. Journalists can "crowd
source" massive documents, analyze databases, and subject their work to
more public scrutiny and fact-checking in ways that were unimaginable
pre-internet. And especially for fast-moving events--like the
aforementioned tragedy in Norway or the recent uprisings in the Middle
East--twitter can be an invaluable source for on-the-ground
information. 

But fact-checking remains a challenge, especially as traditional news
orgs cut labor costs on fact-checking and editing (fact-based reporting
is an example of a professional journalistic norm that I think we
should hold on to). And, of course, none of these new technological
capabilities obviates the need for actual reporters on regular beats.

As for your second question, the best part about editing "The Last
Reporter" was being in conversation with all of these thinkers from
different perspectives--journalists, publishers, scholars, activists,
policymakers--who converged on a single vexing problem: the future of
journalism and why it matters. Nearly all contributors agreed that
journalism is facing an existential crisis. There were differences
about what was causing it, its significance, and what should be done
about it.

I also took away from the book an affirmation that history matters. A
number of contributions to the book (including my own) focused on
nearly-forgotten American traditions of alternative media and media
criticism. Others focused on the antecedents leading up to our current
journalism crisis. If we understand that this crisis was decades in the
making, we realize that it wasn't simply caused by the internet or
other technological changes. History also helps us understand that
there is no easy technological fix for solving the journalism crisis.
This crisis is first and foremost a social and political problem.
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #19 of 88: Victor Pickard (victorpickard) Sat 23 Jul 11 09:33
    
In response to Wickett's point: I have not read or heard anything
about any of Anders Behring Breivik's (the suspected perpetrator in the
recent Norwegian terrorist attacks) views on the media. 
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #20 of 88: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Sat 23 Jul 11 12:16
    
<And, of course, none of these new technological
capabilities obviates the need for actual reporters on regular beats.>

There's the rub, huh? Where is the job security for a
journalist/reporter now? And is it a sustainable vocation?
 
Along with that there is the pressure of those moving out on their own
as freelancers, and bloggers trying to break into the digital
platforms. Here, there must be great tension between getting a story
out, winning an audience and gaining the 'jump on the pack' and some
social cred on the Net vs. fact checking and steady income. A nasty
mix.
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #21 of 88: Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Sat 23 Jul 11 12:36
    
I dunno. That's what I do for a living. I edit four hours a day for
CMSwire, and yes, there's some pressure to be first and so on, as well
as accurate. And then I write two blog posts a week and some one-off
articles. They're not expected to be First; I add nuance or some value
add with the blog posts, and the articles are like any feature article,
just online.
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #22 of 88: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Sat 23 Jul 11 15:51
    
That's encouraging Sharon.
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #23 of 88: Angie (coiro) Sun 24 Jul 11 22:36
    
Victor, so far we've been using the term "journalist" as though
there's one universally-accepted definition of the term. But one of the
elements of change "The Last Reporter" goes into - with passion, at
times - is that the very meaning of the word is changing. 

Bloggers aren't dismissed out of hand as basement-dwelling,
pajama-wearing cranks anymore - well, less so, anyway. But they and
other independents aren't necessarily fully accepted as journalists by
mainstream institutions. Nor by the courts, as we've seen in legal
cases seeking to establish the cred of "citizen journalists". 

What IS a journalist nowadays? What will it be, when it all shakes
out? And what's at stake as the term is redefined?
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #24 of 88: Victor Pickard (victorpickard) Mon 25 Jul 11 07:30
    
Great questions, Angie. Very true that our conception of a journalist
is changing -- both in who a journalist is and what journalism looks
like. And in many ways this is a good thing as more people are able to
get involved in the journalistic process. Even old-school news orgs
increasingly are making space for blogs and social media. 

Many of the essays in our book describe these shifts, but there is
nuance in how these changes are understood. No one wants to go back to
the days when there were three major tv networks and mainstream media
institutions were the only gatekeepers in town. But obviously there are
also grounds for concern when we look at the quality of information
being produced by these much-celebrated new forms of journalism.

If current trends continue - to speak in very general terms - we will
be left with cable television commentators, talk radio personalities,
and bloggers, with a dwindling number of paid professionals whose job
it is to generate new information. What's more, as the latter group
diminishes, the richness of the discourse emanating from the
commentariat will also suffer.

So this gets at your last question: what is at stake with redefining
the term journalist. At first glance, it may seem trivial (I'm not
attached to the term - in some ways "public information" would work
better than "journalism"). But if we do not have a vocabulary for
distinguishing between these different sets of practices and, more
important, the kind of content that is produced by these practices,
then we can't see what we are losing and what we need for democratic
society.

And we still haven't figured out how these new forms of journalism
(blogging, tweeting, citizen journalism, etc.) will be financially
sustainable - not in terms of turning a profit, but of simply
supporting enough folks who can dedicate themselves to gathering
information on important policy debates, watch-dogging those in power,
etc.
  
inkwell.vue.413 : Victor Pickard "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights"
permalink #25 of 88: Peter Richardson (richardsonpete) Mon 25 Jul 11 07:57
    
Victor, is it your impression that we've spent lots of time on the
delivery devices (newspapers versus whatever) and maybe not enough time
on how to build strong news organizations? As the book makes clear, we
need outfits that can weather legal challenges from corporations, the
government, etc.  

BTW, I agree that stronger public broadcasting is a no-brainer at this
point. But as in health care, we evidently have to let the markets
fail spectacularly before we realize that political journalism--which
is the only kind the founding fathers cared about--is a public good
that has always been subsidized in this country. I've been surprised by
how many journalists resist the public-subsidy approach.  Evidently,
corporate subsidies (and ownership) don't register as threats to strong
journalism.   
  

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