Cal panel about digital journalism

· The Power of Many

Second of today’s Cal panels: Disrupting the News Industry
Media Concentration and Participatory Journalism
. Panelists:

Gillmor: “Always fun to come back to Berkeley … and find parking.” Cites ClearChannel booting Stern and Sinclair Broadcasting blacking out Ted Koppel reading the names of U.S. dead in Iraq, plus Oprah not being touched for the same acts Stern was punished over, all to indicate that concern about media concentration rises over just this kind of corporate political expression—when the media owner’s opinion determines content.

Not all corporate journalism is bad; cites L.A. Times as an example; Knight-Ridder Washington bureau has been asking the hard Iraq questions all along. But these are rare.

Google’s IPO cites the Washington Post, N.Y. Times, and Wall Street Journal as models, for their dual-share structure that allows them to shrug off market pressure for short-term profit. Google is more of a media company than a tech company (selling ads). craigslist is “eating our lunch” [said with admiration] on classified advertising. Doesn’t know whether Big Journalism will survive, but hopes. Says he’s proudly “a cost center.”

“We’re heading to something between a conversation, a lecture, and a seminar.” The article is just the start of the conversation—but we even converse before that.

Chase: we’ve taught our investors (Viacom, Pearson) a lot; FT.com site is much better with their news, their sources, but Marketwatch.com’s methods.

Sands: Why am I here (from small-city Spokane)? Because there is not a lot of innovation in mainstream journalism. Chain papers have bureaucracy and sometimes can’t even access their own servers. Spokane Spokesman-Review is family owned; Sands can try a lot of things because he’s “willing to do stupid things about half the time.”

How much real participation is there in news? Not on the NYT (their forums are “stupid”). He has arranged with 50-60 newsrooms to e-mail many regular readers; he can ask “should we use X?” (example: burnt bodies in Fallujah) and find out that most people say yes when relying solely on complainers-after-the-fact would indicate no.

Paper’s site has many online columns (hates the word “blog”), links to many A-list blogs, and links to many local western Washington blogs. “We’re doing this because if we don’t, we’re going to get run over by people like The Command Post.” Praises CP, OhMyNews in Korea, and one man’s volunteer reporting on the Madison, WI, school board [a “watchblog”?].

Crosbie: Many newspapers have record profits, so their mindset is “what problems?” Cites many profit & readership numbers for their dominant position; “this is the dominant position that was held by the railroads in 1960.” Faith and complicity conflict with actual data. “The U.S. will be the epicenter of the collapse of newspapers.” Cites decline in % of adults who read a daily paper: will be less than 10 percent within 10 years. And shoveling print content online isn’t the answer: even fewer read papers’ sites. “Depressing, I know.” Chase interrupts: “You’re not depressing; you’re wrong.” Crosbie: “I may be wrong, but the data say I’m not.” Cites Camden, Maine: folks who created an online news source 3-4 years ago are now celebrating first anniversary of their print weekly. We’re back to the model of 1880, where a press and movable type [!] was all you needed—we’re re-lowering the barriers to entry. Moderator: “So print isn’t dead, it’s just in the wrong hands.”

Discussion of how Google doesn’t create content, doesn’t practice journalism. Gillmor: High margins are hard to protect. Quasi-monopoly newspapers that can’t will take a stock plunge, which means they’ll get bought. Daily papers have largely survived as aggregators (often front page might not have even one home-grown story), but then what’s the advantage? Readers can get much better aggregation elsewhere.

Chase: We’ll be around; those aggregators get their stuff from me. Gillmor: The most important content is what people create for each other. Crosbie: Journalism won’t die; it’s a basic human need. But the way big media companies are doing it is failing.

Chase: There are only two kinds of content on blogs. (1) One person’s opinion: might be valuable, might not. (2) Links to news organizations. Gillmor: Don’t forget source material being turned up by amateurs, linked to. And some of those links are to tiny overlooked stories.

Q: What would you have us do? Crosbie cites USC J-School Online Journalism Review story: be open to new content types. Develop different products for different people. Don’t let online be chained to the one-paper-every-morning-for-everyone model. An earthquake in Peru is too small for a U.S. morning edition, but extremely valuable to the few in America who have relatives there. Sands: Think about the needs of readers. Sports desk complained about linking to other papers’ sports sections, but that’s how you become a one-stop, dependable source. Gillmor: “Linking to your competitors is a source of your own authority.”

Mernit (in audience): These things [news sites?] aren’t interactive. Clicking to vote in a poll isn’t interactive. Plus, AOL and others digest the news, and people want that.Blog items are short; people want headlines and short excerpts, so they can decide which to read further.

Discussion of blogs and deliberation vs. argument … aggregation … copyright … Why not eliminate unprofitable elements? Chase: giving up completeness loses readers. Crosbie: the supply of info is much higher—you can get most papers in multiple cities, such as the NYT printed on the West Coast; millions of blogs, hundreds of TV channels—so the price is lower. More and more sections will be low-margin.

Chase: General background and basic reporting skills will still count. Gillmor: Maybe not; most valuable skill may be typing, and as tools improve perhaps not even that. “People should be thinking about delivering content to these things” [holds up cell phone].

(updated 5/27 with correct OJR cite and link)