Guest Blog: Confab mulls newsroom of the future

tn_jennifermcclure.jpg Editor’s note: I am extremely grateful today to run this guest blog from Jennifer McClure, the founder and executive director of the Society for New Communications Research, an organization through which I have met some very interesting folks trying to make sense of the new possibilities and perils inherent in new/social media. Knowing that Jen was on her way to a great conference on this very topic I sought her permission to repost the brain dump she originally crafted for her personal blog.  Without further ado please take a gander at what’s going on through Jen’s eyes.

The first day of the Journalism That Matters conference generated many more questions than answers.

With the overarching goal of helping to create and start the “next news organization,” 160+ journalists, journalism professors, traditional and new media professionals, public advocates and citizen journalists gathered at George Washington University to discuss, debate and share ideas.

The event began today with a State of the Citizen Media Update, featuring a discussion with Jay Rosen, Faye Anderson, Cody Howard, Jan Schaffer, Peggy Kuhr, Merrill Brown and Dan Gillmor.

JTM co-organizer Chris Peck opened the discussion by stating that the age of citizen journalism has resulted in a “time of chaos” for traditional news organizations. The participants were then asked to pose some questions for the panel to address. Some initial questions that arose \included:

* What is the proper mix of pro and am in the new journalism model?

* What is the best way for us to ensure accuracy and balance?

* What will the successful business model look like?

* How can we get more of the public involved? How are young people involved and how will these burgeoning models help the next generation?

* How does citizen journalism work differently when you have different sizes and types of communities?

*Should there be a code of conduct for citizen journalists?

The panel discussed these questions and others. Here’s a brief recap of some of the discussion:

Jay Rosen stated, “If more people participated in the press, the press would be better off, because people have the right to own and participate in the discussions of their country. Participation is not only good, but people have the tools now and are going to use the tools they have. Readers are now writers. Everyone has the power to participate.”

Dan Gillmor responded, “We’re in a great place on balance – we’re seeing progress. There are thousands of experiments going on around the world now, but keep in mind that there will be some failures, but there will be an enormous amount of innovation in the next few years. Certainly there are problems with discourse, thoroughness, accuracy, independence, media literacy, but if we can address those, we have a chance of getting this right. I am enormously optimistic.”

Jan Schaffer commented that more than ever before there seems to be an impetus for citizens to get involved in areas that traditional journalists have left uncovered. There are very interesting experiments happening in the nonprofit world and via think tanks, she said “I am also very optimistic. I think we need to be careful about calling it “chatter.” It doesn’t all have to be big-J journalism to have value.”

Peggy Kuhl who has trained citizen journalists commented, that through that work she discovered that there are so many ways that you can mix what is happening out there and what peoples’ interests are and how they want to be involved, that we don’t need to choose between traditional journalism or citizen journalism, “it’s not this or that, it will be a mix.”

Jay Rosen described his citizen journalism project, saying, “I’m trying to figure out if there is such a thing as an open system, an open platform in news – not expanding an existing news organization, but trying to involve the thousands of people who want to get involved. We’re driving down the cost for like-minded people to find each other, share information and collaborate – a lot of people can get involved, which would have been impossible before. At the same time that we have the old systems becoming more particpatory, we have the open systems trying to learn how to become more journalistic.”

He continued, “If you can design a project where the mom that has one hour or week or someone who has ten minutes or someone who blogs as a hobby, and you can accept all those forms of what are effectively civic donations, that’s a great start. We don’t know how all those forms will work yet to result in high-quality journalism.”

“Americans have never believed that journalism ever belonged to the professionalized press. The professionals need to ask themselves – what is the stronger press – one that is owned by ‘us’ the professionalized press – or a shared press, and I think the smart ones know that a shared press is stronger.”

Rosen asked Jan Schaffer – “What did you have to change your mind about as you went from the newsroom to what you are doing now?”

She answered that as a journalist in a newsroom several years ago there was no desire to interact with readers. “Most journalists are really uninformed about what is happening in journalism. How can we get legacy journalism to pay more attention to addressing what is happening and want to pay more attention to citizens” she asked.

Schaffer also called for “Equilibrium ” – the give and the get. “If they are out of balance you won’t get much. People have to get something for their participation.” She asked Merrill Brown what that might be. He answered that one of the things they are focusing on is “making it easy:” to upload a photo or article, get a press pass, connect with others in the network. These are important to participating. He then asked the audience, “How concerned are you that badly run newspapers are going to fail in this country in the next fews years and what can we do about that? is that important to you – if your local daily newspaper fails or is that just part of the evolution?” The audience discussed this and one participant stated – I think it’s a false question. Newspapers are not going out of business. Brown responded that he has already talked to newspapers who have asked “Shall we start by just cutting out Tuesday?”

Rosen responded, “I think it would be a good thing if some of the bad papers fail. Then we could just start over. Without a common narrative it’s difficult to see how a community can exist. But people share life, they share problems, and today they are more able than ever to share information, so I am not sure that the local newspaper is necessarily the best way to do this. Some of these newspapers have been doing this so badly for so long, they deserve to die.”

Leonard Witt responded that we don’t necessarily have just the backfence neighborhood community anymore. We have MySpace and other networked communities. In fact, this group may be more of a community to me than my neighborhood, because this is what I am interested in.”
No matter where we are, we are connected to a community.

Rosen quoted DeToqueville, saying “Newspapers make associations, and associations make newspapers.” This is just as true now, he said. DeToqueville was referring to the newspaper. But today we are referring to the web. That’s why journalism is moving to the web.

He continued that for the first eight to nine years of the web, newspaper organizations simply re-purposed content (if they had online entities at all), showing that there was a huge misunderstanding of the web. “I don’t know that we need to save newspapers. I do think we need to be concerned about news organizations.”

Peggy Kuhl summed things up by saying “There is a hunger for information and news, both through traditional and nontraditional channels.”

The session ended with the panel posing more questions for consideration:

From Faye Anderson: For awhile there was a debate about whether citizen journalists are journalists. Is a citizen journalist who practices journalistic principles and standards a professional or an amateur?

From Cody Howard: Where can the average news consumer go to find the truth?

From Jan Schaffer: Does there need to be a business model behind the citizen journalism movement or might it be just a part of the new volunteerism?

From Peggy Kuhl: What new skill sets do we need as we move forward?

From Dan Gillmor: If you have kids, are you teaching them to be independent thinkers?

From Jay Rosen: What are some everyday situations we encounter where we have to be journalists, where we have to ‘file a report?’ If we can start there, we can figure out what people already know about the naturally recurring acts of journalism.

More to come tomorrow. For more information on this conference, and to view and comment upon the proposed next newsroom business plan that will be the topic of discussion for this event, visit