Friday, January 27, 2006
Three or four blog items merged into this one long one while I wasn't paying enough attention to keep them apart. They are about involving the public in journalism or civic discourse, about the future of "public-service" journalism, and about paying the bills.
One concerns a troubled "new media" enterprise. Another is about grassroots online publishing in Knoxville. A third is about a Pulitzer-Prize-winning "big media" company threatening to come apart at the seams.
First, Dan Gillmor, the former San Jose Mercury News columnist who literally wrote the book (We the Media) on the blogger-built grassroots news movement, has announced that he had the wrong idea when he tried to make a for-profit "citizen journalism" site work in San Francisco. His Bayosphere community's main problem seems to have been a combination of timing and competition for the attention of those grassrooters... which is something I've been wondering about here in Knoxville, while watching local online entities sprout up.
For a lengthy discussion of Knoxville online-community history, stop by this week's MetroPulse. The local weekly tabloid shut down its own online forum last year, inspiring both some animosity and a series of alternative sites.
MetroBlab led to BubbaBlab, which (after some heated discussions of the MetroPulse and its publisher's other business interests) was succeeded by KnoxBlab last summer, and a reorganization of the RockyTopBrigade site, which aggregates recent posts by a loose confederation of Tennessee bloggers. Most recently, the creator of BubbaBlab has returned with a new community site called KnoxViews.
Maybe the MetroPulse article and blogger comments on it will get some students interested in exploring the local online scene more closely. Unlike Bayosphere, none of the local community site operators appear to have a "business model" in mind. A year or two from now, I expect to see some doctoral dissertations about the economics of online communities. (Maybe some are already on the shelf. Who has time to look?)
Come to think of it, in the old days of newspapering, at least a few wealthy publishers appeared to be in the business as a public service (or ego gratification with a service component) at least as much as they were in it for the money. I know of only one publisher, Theodore Bodenwein, who turned his paper over to a benevolent foundation, directing profits to community projects. His New London Day is still an independent voice in Southeastern Connecticut.
Maybe civic-spirited software millionaires will be the next new hope of civic-minded journalism, or at least throw out some seed-money for those grassroots. Actually, that describes some of Bayosphere's investors, a few popular bloggers, and the founder of Craigslist, who has his own ideas about supporting investigative journalism. Tracking down other possible journalism angels could turn into another thesis idea for someone!
On a related topic, the Society of Professional Journalists headquarters has just called for a national discussion of the fate of public-service journalism in the face of the possible sale of the 32 newspapers owned by Knight Ridder, the nation[base ']s second-largest newspaper chain. From the SPJ press release:
To satisfy the demands of a few major shareholders
seeking larger short-term profits, the company may be swallowed whole by another
conglomerate or broken up by speculators in early 2006. To finance the multibillion-dollar
deal, new owners would be under heavy pressure to slash investment in newsgathering
News media play a vital role in ensuring a robust and transparent democracy,
a role that is too important to be compromised by the quest for profits. SPJ
believes that both journalists and the public need to discuss openly the societal
implications of these kinds of business decisions, as several groups have done
in recent weeks.Back in Novembeer, 50 past editors and reporters at Knight Ridder papers, many of them Pulitzer Prize winners, published an open letter challenging Knight Ridder to restore the company's legacy of excellent journalism and civic purpose. While smaller newspaper chains appear to have their eyes on Knight Ridder papers in their regions, the Newspaper Guild/Communication Workers of America union has proposed a union buyout of some papers, and is keeping track of the case with -- what else? -- a weblog. It's named Knight Ridder Watch.
Coincidentally, one of the signers of that "alumni" petition is the current publisher of the New London Day, the paper mentioned above as a public service model. And one of the Knight Ridder papers up for sale is the Mercury News, where Dan Gillmor covered Silicon Valley before blogging his way into his grassroots journalism specialty. Strange how these loose ends are getting tied up.
And that gets us back to San Francisco. Here's an excerpt from Gillmor's letter to Bayosphere participants:
Although citizen media, broadly defined, was taking the world by
storm, the experiment with Bayosphere didn[base ']t turn out the way I had
hoped. Many fewer citizens participated, they were less interested in
collaborating with one another, and the response to our initiatives was
underwhelming. I would do things differently if I was starting over. I erred, in retrospect, by taking the standard Silicon Valley route.
I was trying to figure out how to make this new phenomenon pay its own
way out of the gate, just as the traditional, still deep-pocketed
media, super-energized entrepreneurs and legions of talented "amateurs"
-- a word I use in the most positive sense here -- were starting to
jump seriously into the fray.
Gillmor eventually came to agree with a friend who called him "more of a dot-org kind of guy than the dot-com kind." He and his associates decided to stop spending investors' money on something that didn't look like it would work. They are talking to other organizations to "keep Bayosphere going in a good way."
Meanwhile, Gillmor has launched a new citizen journalism project, which is a
nonprofit -- a Center for Citizen Media with academic connections at both Berkeley and Harvard.
Do check out his letter and the comments at the end from more than a dozen readers. And, if you're a student, start thinking about a thesis or dissertation topic.
... in classroom, newsroom and board room
A half dozen years ago a colleague of mine was startled to learn that my graduate students were "publishing to the entire world" with their classroom Web pages, taking responsibility for their own words, not submitting them to any faculty-designated editor...
Now it's really "cybercasting" as well as "cyber publishing": We can have the Internet equivalent of an audio or video broadcasting tower on every desk, offering the world original programs. And perhaps offering faculty some new "control" anxieties. The benefits for the students are clear in this quote from a teacher:
The surprise: Halderson's students are in the seventh grade. For more about her class and others, see this New York Times story about podcasting finding its way into grammar schools and high schools from Massachusetts to Wisconsin.
The kids are recording everything from musical variety shows to programs finding local angles on national news. One podcast episode mentioned in the story "featured student interviews about
bullying, a follow-up to a report on '20/20.'"
As one teacher told the Times, "All you need is a computer, access to the Internet and a microphone that you can buy at Toys 'R' Us."
Luckily, I'm pretty sure our new classroom Macintoshes have built in microphones, and I've already helped one faculty member launch a blog and podcast using free off-campus software/services... My online publishing students will be able to do the same if it suits their projects in this semester's class. After all, I don't want the UT seniors falling behind those Nebraska eighth
graders, even if they will get to the job market a few years sooner!
Another good sign: The Times article breaks the stereotype of "mainstream media" sites being reluctant to link to other sites. The story has several clickable liks to school projects and educators' lists of topical podcasts, so I won't repeat them here.
Another Times story points out that interactive media "convergence" isn't something the old media corporations can control: As Gadgets Get It Together, Media Makers Fall Behind.
These four sentences make up a paragraph headed "Control Anxiety"; I think they're worth bullets and some "spin" of my own:
I wouldn't use the negative phrase "in doubt" -- which might depress deans, teachers and students at journalism schools. I'd just say "different."
- Since the invention of the high-speed printing press, mass media have
been created for the masses, not by them.
- The rise of Weblogs has given
everyone a printing press and even the opportunity to get income from
ads that Google
will happily sell.
- Now we can all be D.J.'s and film directors,
distributing our podcasts and movies online without groveling before a
- The career prospects for hit makers, gatekeepers and
even fact checkers may well be in doubt.
The journalist's editorial skills of gatekeeping and fact checking -- presented as a positive "filtering the information overload" instead of a negative "blocking-the-road" or censorship -- are skills more people should acquire. As for "hit makers" -- in the world of words, that means clear, concise, entertaining, convincing (or persuasive) storytelling.
Journalism students are in a good place right now... as long as they keep up with those eighth graders.
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7/19/08; 1:11:53 PM.