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Journalism in 2013

Alas, dear readers, we’ve moved from the “long speeches on stage” phase of Media Re:public to panel-land. Panels are a great way to put a lot of cool people on stage… which is useful, because it allows you to invite them to the conference and feel honored as attendees. But they’re murder for bloggers. Panelists don’t use slides, they react to time constraints by flitting topic to topic, and you can barely finish looking up one speaker before the next one takes the mic.

But common sense, simple decency and the number of chairs available didn’t prevent the organizers from putting eight panelists on stage for an hourlong discussion titled, “It’s 2013: Do You Know Where Your News Is?” Fortunately, they’ve put everyone’s favorite standup legal philosopher on stage to manage the crowd.

A few observations from the seven of the panelists who I heard:

Jonathan Taplin, a professor at Annenberg, believes that we’re heading towards a world of commercial overload. The struggle over metadata that David Weinberger described may become a struggle over people targetting ads to you. He points to Free411 as a sign of what’s to come – a free 411 service subsidized by making people listen to a 15 second ad. We may be heading towards a two-tiered world, where the rich can avoid advertising. Oddly, he tells us, that his students don’t seem to be worried at all about this – they simply love the fact that services are free.

Jennifer Ferro, the assistant general manager of KCRW, believes it’s the end of radio as we know it… and she feels fine. The radio, she believes, will be less and less relavent, disappearing altogether when good internet access comes to cars. But quality journalism is medium independent, she believes and will survive the change.

Jonathan Krim of WashingtonPost Newsweek International hopes the future holds a shift in what we’re allowed to do as journalists – he’d like to see the rise of “declarative journalism”. Journalists try incredibly hard not to offer a direct opinion – instead, they find someone to say what they want to have said. Krim hopes that a future vision of journalism where journalists can actually say things they know.

Lisa Williams of Placeblogger has a slick technique to avoid the panel’s prohibition on slides – she’s uploaded her eight slides as images in a FLickr set, which she pulls up on the screen. (As such, I actually have a pretty good sense of the points she was trying to make. You see, organizers, slides aren’t inherently evil.)

Lisa tell us that she’s more optimistic than most because she’s never worked for a newspaper – instead, she’s from the tech industry, and sees a world in which “journalism will survive the death or transformation of major institutions.” We need journalism to change because, “problems are distributed and global, and our media is consolidated and local.” For journalism to survive in this new age, journalists need to learn from the tech industry. Newspapers, historically, have made money for polishing and charging for free stuff – public information. Web businesses make money by taking expensive stuff and making it free.

David Cohn, who works with NewAssignment.net and Newstrust.net, reminds us that “journalism is a process, not a product.” As such, he’s frustrated by the opacity of newsrooms – he recently tried to visit the newsroom of the San Francisco Chronicle and was surprised to find it closed to him – why aren’t newsrooms public spaces, more like salons or libraries? And how do we ask for transparecy within these media without access to the process of building media?

Jon Funabiki, a journalism professor at San Francisco University, mentions that he’s got 650 journalism majors, and wonders where they’re all going to find work. He’s encouraged by the large and energetic ethnic media community, which he sees as challenging consolidation of media in areas like San Francisco. Ethic media in the Bay Area includes over 100 papers in more than 25 languages. He points out that communities are ethnic, but also regional and identity-based. This sort of reporting, in the long run, could expand to communities of interests.

My friend and colleage Solana Larsen offers the last “provocation”… and it’s a bit provocative, as she picks on the BBC with Richard Sambrook in the room. She talks about listening to two BBC correspondents talk about a press trip arranged by the Chinese government, and wonders why the BBC thought interviewing a pair of journalists about a newsgathering story was more interesting that talking to Tibetans or other Chinese citizens. Her prediction – in 2013, there will be no more foreign correspondents. “That doesn’t mean that a Brit, an Asian, a Danish- Puertorican can’t write about China – it just means the end of parachute journalism.” Instead, the hope is to hear from people who understand the language, are able to read local newspapers and who can give informed local content and analysis.

Sambrook, ever a gentleman, acknowledges that parachute journalism needs to disappear. But he points out that the BBC has over 400 local correspondents, one of whom might have been a better source for that story than the one Solana heard.

9 thoughts on “Journalism in 2013”

  1. I’m still amazed you manage to get so much down. One clarification, the story I heard on the radio was a BBC journalist interviewing a journalist from another media company (from Australia, I think).

  2. Hi Ethan,
    I should have responded to Solana’s provocation at the conference but didn’t get a chance. I know it was meant to stir things up but I thought it was a careless comment. I also heard that World Service interview she cited and the reason that one journalist was interviewing another was perfectly valid. The story was about how a Chinese public relations trip for western journalists was ambushed by some Tibetan activists. As there was no BBC person on the trip they had to interview someone else who was there. It would have been madness and bad journalism to have interviewed anyone else.
    More generally Solana is also misrepresenting what many foreign correspondents do. OK so it can be bad when a journalist jumps in and out of a situation but sometimes you need to do that. There aren’t ‘local’ journalists ready to spring in to action everywhere. Networks like Global Voices are valuable but I don’t want to rely on them for all my foreign news coverage.
    Of course, media organisations should always be integrated in to local sources. But there is also the value of an experienced analyst/reporter who can compare situations or give a non-local perspective. In the end, the best coverage is a mixture – it’s what I call Networked Journalism.

  3. Ethan
    Excellent recap. Thanks for this. I wish we had more time to talk – would love to pick your brain about things.

    In the meantime – keep up the good work.

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  5. Let me be provocative: Who do you want to get your news from? Johnny Foreigner or John Anchorman? It’s not just about understand what you report about, you also need to understand who you’re reporting for. Ironically it’s the new media types who understand their audience least.

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  7. Pingback: Bye, bye, foreign correspondents « Globograma

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  9. “Instead of ‘news,’ journalism will be about ‘emphasis,’ and each journalistic organization will define itself by how it defines ‘emphasis.’”

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