Archive for June, 2009

Where’s my paycheck? Thoughts on the future of journalism

We’re obviously in an age of very uncertain times for journalists.  I sat down with two experts, Robert McClure and Hanson Hosein, to get an understanding of their unique perspectives on where journalism is headed and some of the current obstacles and opportunities provided by “the shakedown.”

Robert McClure is Pulitzer Prize finalist and winner of the John B. Oakes Award for Distinguished Environmental Journalism, has covered environmental news since the late 1980s and has been working in Seattle since 1999.  He covered groundbreaking stories and ran a popular blog at the Seattle P-I until the paper halted it’s print edition. Since then, he’s been working with a team of accomplished journalists on a project called Investigate West.  Investigate West (website coming soon) is a nonprofit start-up devoted to Web 2.0 investigative and narrative journalism in the West. It’s funded by members, media partners and major donors.

As the Director of the Master of Communication in Digital Media program at the University of Washington, Hanson Hosein is well aware of the technological changes that uprooting the values of traditional journalism.  He’s worked as a solo broadcaster around the world for MSNBC.com.  Through his company HRH Media, Inc. he’s produced the award winning films, Independent America: The Two Lane Search for Mom and Pop, and Independent America: Rising from Ruins.

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Thoughts on Twitter

A few months ago I had never even heard of Twitter.  While I still don’t spend my day sending out 140 character-long messages about my current thoughts, I learned a ton of new information about Twitter, web 2.0 technologies and social media.  My first reaction was similar to that of many new users, “why would anyone want to know what I’m doing right now?”  However, I quickly learned that the little bird’s question was actually much more in-depth than it’s counterpart the Facebook status update.  I was surprised at how useful I found the majority of the information exchange.   I think that Twitter has huge potential as a social media networking tool to connect people and ideas in real-time.

One of my first impressions of the site was the overwhelmingly narcissistic idea that formed its foundation.  While it could be used for updates on what you’re cooking for dinner, I believe that the users have steered it towards a much more functional purpose.  Social media sites like Facebook essentially direct people in how to use their product.  The simplicity of Twitter grants the user control to make the platform benefit his specific needs.  One of the most important aspects of Twitter is that it is a platform to be manipulated as the user sees most appropriate.

A second essential characteristic of the site is its democratic structure.  In the Twitter-sphere everyone is created equal.  This idea has incredible implications for the journalism world.  The equalization of the playing field at the same time humanizes large news organizations while giving an individual journalist the opportunity to reach millions of people at the click of a mouse.  I have a fairly wide variety of users that I follow so it’s completely normal that I see a CNN update about an Obama speech at the same time I see a friend’s commentary on the same issue.  This democratization also allows an individual to develop a massive following.  It is an open invitation to market oneself and develop into a trusted brand that people will turn to in order to find valuable information.  The technology enables the individual to take grow into a powerful source of information.

The framework of the platform also facilitates an unprecedented manner for groups to communicate in real-time.  For example, I’ve used WeFollow as a resource to find important leaders in the travel arena.  So if I’m planning a trip to Latin America, I can send out a tweet asking for advice.  That tweet generates a real-time conversation where others begin replying with valuable links and information.  The amount of information and travel advice on the Internet is so overwhelming that I could spend hours searching through web sites without finding the information that I’m really looking for.  However, Twitter enables me to associate with like-minded and respected peers.  Each one of them is a wealth of information and also associates with similar people.  By pooling our knowledge and resources we can have a live conversation while exchanging links, stories and tips.  This presents an extraordinary opportunity for the journalist who covers a specific beat.  By focusing your expertise in one area you can become a leader and help motivate followers to engage in mutually-beneficial dialogues.   This new model of group communication between respected and knowledgeable individuals encourages personalized expertise and eliminates the annoying inefficiencies of the hunt on your standard search engine.

An additional benefit of real-time communication is the potential to rapidly mobilize and organize groups.  Compared with other nations and other times in our own history, we live in an era of relatively comfortable apathy.  Yet, I see Twitter as an invaluable tool for groups interested strategic organizing.  Locally, it could have been a huge asset to the groups involved in direct action and civil disobedience during the WTO meetings in Seattle in 1999.  It also has the potential to rapidly draw attention to breaking news issues.  Following natural disasters, for example, the most reliable information often comes from citizens who are already on the scene rather than large news organizations.  Twitter could help expedite the exchange of accurate information between people on the ground and the news groups, aid organizations and general public waiting to learn more.

My experience with Twitter has definitely changed me from a skeptist to a promoter.  The structure of platform makes it an amazing tool for journalism and the exchange of information.  The even playing field enables individuals to develop their expertise and followers to become trusted sources.  It also encourages like-minded people to bring their knowledge into an open dialogue and flow of information.  Since this communication occurs in real time, it can be an incredibly efficient way to connect people through new thoughts, ideas and innovations.  The immediacy of this conversation is great way to bring instant attention to a developing issue.  I’m interested to see how Twitter and the idea of real-time networks of information develop in the coming years.

Notes from DigiDave

David Cohn, or DigiDave, is the founder and creator of Spot.us.  Today our Digital Journalism class was lucky enough to sit in with him for a video chat on important topics and trends in journalism.

Objectivity

“Transparency trumps objectivity.”

  • Some of the best journalism come from advocacy journalism.
  • Good reporting is thorough and accurate – but not necessarily objective.
  • Focusing on objectivity in metropolitan newspapers created a loss and disconnect with “on the ground” local issues.

Community journalism

  • Community journalists and professional news organizations are interdependent.
  • Citizens have amazing ability to cover breaking news, i.e. crisis situations.
  • Reporter as community organizer – use readers as sources.
  • “Do what you do best and link to the rest” –Jeff Jarvis.
  • Hone in on what you do best for added value.
  • Shared power, shared voice.

Interesting ventures in entrepreneurial journalism

Future business models

  • There won’t be one solution –  the best organization will use multiple tools.
  • Being an expert in a certain field results in multiple revenue streams.
  • Hyperlocal journalism fills a niche.