How will we get our news?

hownews panelI attended a forum last night focused on the future of journalism titled, “How will we get our news?”

It was hosted by the Central Michigan chapter of the Public Relations Society of America and the Michigan State University chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America. Featured panelists were Ron Dzwonkowski from the Detroit Free Press, Cindy Goodaker from Crain’s Detroit Business and Bill Emkow from MLive.

The event was centered around the One Book, One Community project in East Lansing and its focal point was described as such:

In The Soloist, Steve Lopez laments the demise of newspapers, with their power to tell a story and inspire action. What is the future of the news industry in this age of blogs and on-line news?

One thing that became abundantly clear throughout the night was that there are no easy answers when it comes to the future of journalism — in terms of reporters being given the time and resources to do their jobs properly and businesses being around that can actually sustain the delivery of news in the traditional formats. Yes, shocking news here — newspapers are for-profit businesses. For some reason, people don’t seem to think it’s acceptable for a newspaper to make money, lest it abandon its altruistic nature. But publishing a newspaper costs money, and 85 to 90 percent of the revenue for most newspapers comes from advertising.

It also became clear pretty quickly that old-school journalists are struggling to figure out how to deliver news online while the online folks are frustrated by the newspaper people who think the answer is to simply reproduce the papers in a digital format.

I tweeted from the event, as did a few others. I believe we had a journalist or two in the audience who might write about the event, but those who were following #hownews on Twitter last night already have the story. A bit of irony there, I suppose — that a microblogging platform scooped traditional news outlets on covering a story about the future of journalism. Perhaps a local news organization could have sent a reporter to tweet from the event and then write up a standard news story later. That’s a method of reporting I don’t see being used often enough.

Here are a few of the topics discussed last night that I’d like folks to weigh in on:

  1. One panelist suggested that without major media, online news sources wouldn’t exist — that they are all fed by the mainstream media. Agree or disagree?
  2. Do readers still exist for long-form, investigative stories since everyone likes quick, short news now? Have we, as a society, lost any meaningful attention span?
  3. The average age of readers of the Detroit Free Press and Crain’s Detroit Business is mid-50s. Dzwonkowski said, “the typical newspaper consumer is a dying breed.” He also said, “Young people are consuming a lot of information, but they are consuming it unedited.” He’s worried that no one is bothering to check and double-check the facts and make sure a story is coming from a qualified, reliable source. Do you agree?

One question I asked of the panel and would like to hear your response to as well is: how can we get all people, regardless of age, to once again trust that journalists are doing the proper legwork and providing accurate stories from credible sources? I’d start by getting the Glenn Becks and Keith Olbermans of the world off the cable TV news stations and put them on “The Opinionated Screamers Channel” so people take them with the grain of salt they deserve.

How would you start?

(Photo courtesy of Jessi Wortley Adler – @minij)


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10 comments on “How will we get our news?

  1. Pingback: Twitter Trackbacks for How will we get our news? « Here Comes Later [aribadler.wordpress.com] on Topsy.com

  2. Call me a traditionalist, but I think it’s important to make a differentiation between types of news sources. As you mentioned above, people are consuming more raw news. This has some advantages, including the ability of people to get more news as it happens. But, I also share Dzwonkowski’s concern that much of that news has not been fact-checked in any way. People are more often forming opinions on issues using news stories that may or may not be totally accurate. These outlets might argue that they change their stories as more facts become clear, but by then the damage has often already been done. People tend to believe what they read first and any clarifications later may often seem like spin.

    That’s why I have a problem with the term “citizen journalist.” Journalists are people who learn a craft and all the ethical, legal and professional implications that go along with it. Yes, I realize that some will think that’s an elitist mentality, but that doesn’t make it any less justified. Just because someone covers a news story or an event, doesn’t make them a journalist in the professional sense of the word. An ordinary citizen can deliver a baby in an emergency, but that doesn’t make her a doctor. I can draw up a simple contract, but that doesn’t make me an attorney.

    The unreliability of these newer news sources is likely contributing to the general feeling among Americans that the entire news industry is more unreliable. Lumping some blog in with the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal and pretending they’re somehow peers in the news industry is just plain dumb. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t good blogs or that there aren’t people out there doing good reporting work, but not everyone who starts a blog is a journalist.

    I also agree that it’s time for these talking heads such as Glenn Beck and Keith Olberman to go. They offer nothing but venom and disrespect, and have no place in civil debate. Name calling is for school children. In the past, people like this would have been relegated to churning out poorly written fringe newsletters in a basement somewhere. Now we give them a microphone, a camera and an hour of prime time air every night.

    It also concerns me that people seem to gravitate toward news organizations that spin news more to their liking. I’m taking about Fox News, Drudge Report and others on the right and MSNBC, Huffington Post and others on the left, with sundry other outlets falling somewhere in the middle. When people pick and choose the political leanings of their primary news sources, they are less able to form informed opinions. While some might fear the idea of fewer news sources I believe there were some advantages to more people getting their news the big news networks. Because someone like Walter Cronkite or Edward R. Murrow knew he was preparing news for a broader audience, he was likely more keenly aware of the necessity of offering balanced coverage. (I have other opinions on what it means to offer balanced coverage, but we’ll save those for another post).

    I believe that there is still a place in American life for long-form news features. It may be, though, that news organizations may need to think about embracing other forms of media to tell their stories. How about mixing text with video or audio portions which would allow people to get more information if they wish? One of the most beautiful aspects of online publishing is that it allows for almost unlimited linking to other sources. Use that to your advantage. Offer links to more information or to other sources for similar news.

    I think we all have a responsibility to help drive news organizations to make the necessary changes to keep the industry alive. It’s up to those of us who have successfully made the transition to a digital life to offer suggestions and criticisms when appropriate.

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    • Great comment Ryan, “Just because someone covers a news story or an event, doesn’t make them a journalist in the professional sense of the word.” Too often, people seem to think that because they do the task of a professional that suddenly they are qualified to do a profession. But as I often have to remind people, bloggers are not journalists — they often have no professional training nor do they have a code of ethics to which they are expected to adhere. And the idea of embracing opinionated, biased reporting as normal just makes my skin crawl.

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  3. Good comments on twitter last night. Your observation of it as a reporting platform for traditional media is interesting. It’s also happening.
    Twitter is increasingly used by all kinds of journalists not only for finding sources and story ideas, but for reporting stories. It’s particularly useful in courts coverage. I blogged a bit about that here: http://covertheplanet.org/?p=110
    But a key question: How do you support that kind of coverage?
    A few observations on whether readers will consume long-form investigative pieces.
    1. Some will. But there rarely has been enough to support the product. Now it’s just more obvious with the unbundling of the news – sports, entertainment, obits, health – that did support the product. The public service aspect of journalism came along for the ride, not as a revenue producer. Journalism as a public service has been separated from journalism as a salable product.
    2. Investigative reporting doesn’t have to be long-form. You can still have impact with shorter stories delivered over time and from a variety of angles. Catering substance to time-pressed readers is not impossible.
    3. In the public service sense, sometimes it doesn’t matter whether readers consume the investigation. The mere fact it was done and those in power have read it and know more is coming is often enough to serve the public good. It is not enough to support the resources needed to do the investigation.
    4. Sometimes journalism prevents the need for an investigation. The mere fact that reporters exist to do such investigations can keep wrong-doing in check. Reporters who complain that nothing ever happens at the city council meetings they cover need to realize their mere presence may make those meetings so boring. That’s a function impossible to monetize.

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    • Dave, thanks for reading and commenting. I agree with you that sometimes just having a professional journalist in the audience keeps government officials on track. I covered many local government meetings that were boring – I never thought it might be because I was there! LOL

      Investigative reporting doesn’t have to be long form, you’re right, but there’s something compelling about a well thought out in-depth story that lays out the background and the angles and the results for readers. I miss seeing those, but, I’m just as guilty as the next person of not always feeling like I have the time to read them when I do see them. It’s a sign of the times that we all want more information and now have it available. Do we not have the time to absorb it because we don’t make the time or because there is so much information now that it’s humanly impossible to absorb it all?

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  4. Great post, Ari. As I listened to the panel last night, it struck me that there are kind of two schools of thought on the future of journalism.

    The old school still believes a printed newspaper can be relevant. It still believes there is room in the world for drawn-out investigative pieces and the highest priority should be achieving accuracy and in-depth coverage for a story rather than focusing on delivering the story in real time.

    The new school cares less about how complete a story might be in a traditional view of “journalism” and more about getting it as it happens, even if that is in short bits here and there as the story develops. The web naturally enables news to be shared in small bursts, and the short attention spans of today’s online content consumers have developed because there is no need to take the time to read a three page story when I can get the gist of it in two paragraphs.

    I have a background in journalism, and I appreciate the craft. But, I don’t believe picking up a printed newspaper full of AP wire stories is relevant anymore. If any printed newspaper in this country is going to survive, it’s going to have to do what the web does: publish for a niche audience. This means local news only. Or, if it’s national news, someone needs to take the time to write a story about how it affects the local market. I can get every AP wire story in the country in 10 minutes every morning on my twitter feed. Newspapers simply cannot compete with that. But, I will pick up The State News on Michigan State University’s campus and read it every day because I want to hear about Spartan Football, what’s happening on campus and in the city of East Lansing. And, I like crossword puzzles.

    The roundabout point I’m making is that the old school needs to adapt to the new school, and the new school needs to value the traditions of the old school. The type of journalism that developed with a print format just isn’t relevant anymore.

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    • Thanks Becky. It seems to me that one of the biggest issues is the old-school newspaper guys are just trying to move their print newspaper into a digital format rather than create an online news source. The newspaper format doesn’t transfer over well to a computer or phone screen nor does it necessarily meet the needs of the new audience — people your age who want the news but want it delivered to you in a format you’re comfortable with. On the other hand, sometimes I find that younger people today don’t value the in-depth reporting of years past. There often is more to a story than can be delivered in a headline and lead paragraph.

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  5. I agree with Becky’s comments to a certain point. However, I think when you sacrifice completeness, you’re sacrificing accuracy and, ultimately, reliability. The media has a responsibility to give people what they need, not just what they think they want.

    Traditional journalism does have to adapt to new models (and it’s up to people like us to help them do it), but the new school must absolutely adhere to the principles of accuracy and ethical standards. That’s the part that scares me now. There is no accountability because new school practitioners can simply say, “Well, I did the best I could with the available information.” That’s simply not good enough. Timeliness must be balanced with accuracy.

    I totally agree that a newspaper of AP newswire stories is largely irrelevant when you can get those same stories in a feed on your mobile device. But good local journalism is suffering along with national and world news coverage and that cannot be tolerated. That doesn’t mean I believe that newspapers are the answer, just that good local journalism is essential to a free society. The Free Press investigation into Kwame Kilpatrick’s corrupt administration is a perfect example. No other organization would have had the resources, access or will do do what they did.

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    • A society without a free press can never truly be free, Ryan. That’s why it’s so scary to think of journalism crumbling. It’s not about whether a delivery vehicle survives, it’s about whether an entire profession survives to deliver an accurate, credible product without bias or undue influence.

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  6. At great risk of giving away my age, I remember oh-so-fondly Charlie Manos, a columnist at The Detroit News. The News was a fixture at our house, probably because my dad was a circulation manager there. Charlie wrote about people in the community. You didn’t have to know Charlie to feel that he was your friend. He cultivated aspiring journalists, too. He organized press conferences just for high school journalists. I remember covering “The Fonz” and going to the Fisher Theater to interview the lead in Annie.

    These people have all but disappeared from the journalistic landscape. The people who know the heart and soul of the community and cover it with passion and enthusiasm.

    For me Becky was very much on point. The State News is a rarity in that it provides comprehensive daily coverage of its community.

    It’s something that’s of great value to me. Wish I knew how we could make it a profitable venture!

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