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)

Farewell Michigan Central Depot, we knew you not

What is it about our society that we can’t come to grips with history? It seems everywhere you turn, there is a new project designed to push the past into the ground and roll over it with something new and better, which may be new but is only subjectively better.michigan_state_capitol1

We have such a hard time maintaining old buildings, partly because we refuse to see the beauty in their architecture and the amazing wonder to behold in their hallowed halls. “If these walls could talk” is a very deep, philosophical statement if you really think about it. It’s not about hearing gossip or sordid tales of what occurred somewhere in years gone by. It’s a testament to the souls who walked and talked in those hallways to create the place you currently know.

In a previous job, I worked at Michigan’s State Capitol, actually having an office in the historic building. It was, by far, one of the greatest perks of the job. Whenever I felt deflated or frustrated by the day-to-day nonsense of politics, I could always take a break and find some solace by focusing on the building’s architecture or decoration that had been painstakingly restored over the years. Luckily, the disaster of cramming half floors and cubicles into the Capitol in the 1970s and 80s was undone and the building was restored to its full glory.

michigan-central-depotOn the other hand, in Detroit, an amazing architectural landmark and testament to the ghosts of years gone by is not so lucky and may be very close to seeing the final nail pounded into its coffin. According to this article in Crain’s Detroit Business, the Detroit City Council is pushing to have the building demolished. The mayor wants to use federal stimulus money to tear it down, which is rather ironic.

Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, the building is now just a sad, broken hulk.

As Crain’s reports:waitingroom-19131

“The nearly 100-year-old building dominates Detroit’s southwest skyline and in its heyday had been considered one of the city’s most stately structures. Built in 1913, the station was designed by the same architects responsible for New York’s Grand Central Terminal. It served thousands of travelers each year, but its demise was set as rail service in Detroit began to fall off.”

David Kohrman pulled together a wonderful testament to the Michigan Central Depot at Forgotten Detroit, complete with its history and photos so you can see for yourself what time, a lack of responsibility and an uncaring society has done to this once-majestic structure.

If only those walls could talk — I bet we’d hear them sobbing.

mezannine-to-waiting-room reading-room-mcdwaiting-room-today

(Michigan Central Depot photos courtesy of Forgotten Detroit.)