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April 19 2012

13:17

The newsonomics of risking it all

Alfredo Corchado was used to getting mortal threats.

He received three in Mexico, but now he was in a Laredo bar, north of the border.

You better stop what you’re doing, or you’ll end with a bullet in your head and your body in a vat of acid, he was told. And then we’ll deliver the bones to your family in El Paso.

It was a chilling warning, or at least we’d expect it to put a chill into Corchado. An investigative reporter for the Dallas Morning News (and a former Nieman Fellow), he’s been covering the ravages of drug trafficking for years, much to the concern of his parents living, as the traffickers plainly know, in El Paso. Yet Corchado goes on with his work — as do Adela Navarro Bello of Tijuana’s Zeta news magazine, Jerry Mitchell of the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., and Ramita Navai of the U.K.’s Channel 4. As Navarro Bello explained of her paper’s coverage of the drug trafficking that has consumed at 50,000 Mexican lives, “If we don’t publish this information, we are part of the problem.” (Filmmaker Bernardo Ruiz has captured Zeta’s struggle — including the murder of two of its journalists — with a new movie.)

Each is an investigative reporter who put their lives on the line to reveal stories they think readers must know about. They spoke on the “When the Story Bites Back” panel this weekend, at UC Berkeley, part of the sixth annual Reva and David Logan Investigative Reporting Symposium (live blogging of the conference, here, with a #Logan12 Twitter feed).

That panel and the entire spirited weekend, organized and led by esteemed investigative producer Lowell Bergman, tells us a fair amount about the business of journalism. Though it is not — like most of my work — concerned with the dollars and cents of the business, in its very essence, it describes why the current crazy-quilt economics of the business matters. Funding the journalism business isn’t like funding Sears and Kodak (“The newsonomics of the long good-bye”) or other fading institutions. It’s not even about saving a perhaps-vital American industry, like the auto industry.

It’s about keeping a lifeline of funding open so that our best reporters can do their jobs.

I’ll call it the newsonomics of risking it all because that’s what these reporters do. Many of the other Logan participants and attendees, thankfully, do less life-threatening work. Yet those represented at the conference — from ProPublica, the Washington Post, and New York Times to ABC, NBC, and NPR — are among the cream of the crop of investigative work and produce work with real public interest impact.

As we endlessly debate pay models, whether or not to work with Facebook, how to deal with Apple and Amazon and multi-platform journalism, the Logan Symposium is good tonic — certainly for those of us who attended, but really for all of us who know why this business matters to democracy. Whether and how the economics of the new news business work out isn’t an arcane question; it’s central to our collective future. The value of good, deep reporting is truly priceless.

So what about the state of investigative reporting? Look at the glass as half full and half cloudy.

What emerged from the conference, surprising to some, is that national investigative reporting is keeping its head above water. Both NBC and ABC talked about their expansions in the investigative area, while companies like NPR and Bloomberg have put new resources in as well. Units at the Post, L.A. Times, and New York Times may not be growing much, but seem to be sustaining themselves, for now.

“For now” is an important qualifier, and New York Times managing editor Dean Baquet’s opening interview at Logan, in its over-the-top self-assurance, bothered many of the conference participants with whom I talked.

Washington Post investigative editor Jeff Leen suggested that there were 200 investigative reporters paid by news media in the U.S., which I calculate as one for every 1.5 million Americans. That’s not a ratio that’s going to hold many big institutions — government, business, labor — to account. Maybe that’s why as Logan participant and new-media vet Neil Budde tweeted, “How many times will ‘existential’ be used this weekend? I think count is six so far.”

Importantly, it is largely the largest news media — mainly national and global ones — that continue to put money into investigative work; these are the Digital Dozen companies I identified in my Newsonomics book. For them, as NBC senior executive producer David Corvo put it, investigative work is a “differentiator,” important to distinguishing big news brands from one another in the digital age.

What’s going on regionally is more of a patchwork.

Dozens of people like the Logan family are using their wealth to fund investigative enterprises from coast to coast, most with little fanfare. The Knight Foundation, represented at the conference by its senior advisor and grant-giver extraordinaire Eric Newton, has put $20 million into investigative journalism. With the decline in newspaper budgets, and thus in funding of investigative teams at many regional papers, such private funding has been a lifeline, though there’s a profound sense that significantly less in-depth work is being done at former powerhouse regional papers.

This Logan conference lacked the always-odd spontaneity of a Julian Assange appearance, but it offered intriguing emphases:

  • Front and center, though not appearing in person was Rupert Murdoch. After screening “Murdoch’s Scandal,” Bergman’s Frontline documentary that aired March 27, “The Murdoch Effect: News At Any Price,” made for a raucous panel. Milly Dowler attorney Mark Lewis told how the phone hacking scandal had consumed his life and spoke of the “commercial despotism of Murdochracy” in the U.K., given the News Corp. CEO’s multi-party, decades-long influence. Big questions: What next, and if and how this tale plays out in the U.S.
  • “If it’s not on TV, the American public doesn’t know it,” observed Diana Henriques, the New York Times financial investigative reporter. Yes, we may be on the brink of this multi-platform age, where old newspapers like the Times and the Journal do video alongside print, but still — in terms of notice and public action — there’s nothing like the impact of TV documentary.
  • This is a generational challenge. Journalism has always had its challenges, but never has there been more uncertainty about how one generation can pass along its best practices to the next. Through that foundation funding, a couple of dozen younger journalists and students had their way paid into the conference. Surveying the group on the last day, Robert Rosenthal, executive director of the Center for Investigative Reporting and California Watch, summed his baby-boomer generation’s role: “I’m a bridge — we’re all bridges to the future.”

Bridging is, in part, what Lowell Bergman’s program does. UC Berkeley’s Investigative Reporting Program is a partner in the new Collaboration Central project, along with PBS MediaShift. With new funding, IRP will soon move into a new permanent office. It provides lots of training and fellowships, bringing along new generations to work alongside people like the Pulitzer Prize-winning Bergman, whose career has spanned from early Ramparts through CBS, The New York Times, and Frontline, and who was played by Al Pacino in the tobacco industry exposé The Insider.

Bergman paid tribute to his one-time CBS colleague Mike Wallace, underscoring Wallace’s storied tenacity. That tenacity, based on Wallace’s fierce journalistic power (highlighted at CBS, in story and video), is what it took a non-journalist to highlight in Berkeley.

Jules Kroll, who led the invention of the modern intelligence and security industry, gave the trade good, pointed advice. Saying he had heard a lot of journalists talking about how beleaguered they are, he noted, “You have a big impact.” His shared his inside view of the power of a good investigation. Colloquial translation: Stop whining and get on with it.

And that’s always good advice. As ProPublica managing editor Steve Engelberg aptly said, “They were whining in 1989, when times were good.” That’s true. There may be more to whine about these days than in 1989, but the power of great public service work, sometimes when lives are on the line, is one of the things that must propel the trade forward.

Photo of Alfredo Corchado by the U.S. embassy in Paraguay used under a Creative Commons license.

April 13 2012

14:00

Collab/Space 2012: Building Trust, Tools and Relationships for Collaborating

As the recent Collab/Space 2012 event made clear, the longevity of individual news outlets increasingly relies on a willingness and ability to collaborate.

Journalists, technologists and other media makers from a range of news, public media and non-profit organizations came together from across the country for the daylong event, which was hosted by the University of California at Berkeley's Investigative Reporting Program (IRP) and PBS MediaShift.

Going from "Me" to "We"

"It's not about us," PBS MediaShift Executive Editor Mark Glaser said. "It's about the people. It should be about how we can do it together to serve people in a better way."

Glaser described a culture of "I" in journalism: I want to get the story. I want the award. Collab/Space 2012, he said, was designed to help shift the journalism community's thinking beyond "I" and back toward what brought people into this profession to begin with.

Before the age of the Internet, collaboration was a terminable offense, observed the IRP's Lowell Bergman. But the benefits of collaboration -- from gaining additional resources to cover a story, to reaching a wider audience -- have come to outweigh individual egos, something that was evident as attendees openly discussed challenges and solutions over the course of the day.

bavc-tweet.jpg

Speaker after speaker reiterated that as financial resources continue to evaporate and social media enables more and more people to be content producers, the industry is going to have to adapt or die.

"If journalism institutions are shrinking and anyone with a smartphone is a journalist and deep investigative stories are being replaced by web hits, maybe it's time to start thinking outside the organization," Investigative News Network Executive Editor Evelyn Larubia said.

"When change comes, who survives?" asked Ulrich Nettesheim, an organizational psychologist at Berkeley's Haas School of Business, who ran an interactive exercise with the group. "The ones ready, willing and able to adapt."

Tools for Collaboration

The first half of the day was dedicated to introducing companies that can help facilitate the collaboration process.

Wendy Levy grabbed the crowd's attention when she introduced Sparkwise, a cloud-based platform that transforms raw metrics into easily digested and compelling stories using video, audio and text. Although Sparkwise wasn't explicitly created for journalists, Levy argued that in order to collaborate it will be necessary for the industry to find expedient and intelligent ways to publish data in a place where it can be aggregated with information from similar organizations. The largest obstacle, she said, is getting reporters to be willing to share their data.

civic-commons-tweet.jpg

Storify co-founder Burt Herman described how Storify allows journalists to curate social media, thus collaborating with users to tell a story. "Everybody is a reporter. Not everybody is a journalist," he said, emphasizing the value of the journalist's curatorial role. Read Herman's Storify coverage of Collab/Space here.

Another platform that enables real-time collaborative storytelling is ScribbleLive, which MediaShift used to provide live coverage of the day's events, including tweets, photos and videos. GitHub, which creates tools for open-source code development, was also present. GitHub has grown into the largest code host in the world and makes it easier to collaborate and share code.

It's the People, Stupid.

While attendees spent a good amount of time talking tools and strategies for managing collaboration, the overarching theme of the conference was relationships, which are at the core of any team effort. A few truths emerged: All players in a collaboration must trust each other, be willing to show their hand, and have faith in the common goal.

Some even wondered if relationship management should become part of journalists' core training. "Should a class on managing relationships be taught at journalism schools?" asked Meghann Farnsworth, distribution and online community manager at the Center for Investigative Reporting and California Watch, via Twitter -- to which Andrew Haeg, Public Insight Network co-founder, responded, "Yes":

relationship-tweet.jpg

Do you agree? And if you were at Collab/Space, what did you think of the event? Any highlights I missed? If you weren't there, are there any questions about the day's discussion that I or one of the other attendees or speakers can answer for you?

Keep up with all the new content on Collaboration Central by following our Twitter feed @CollabCentral or subscribing to our RSS feed or email newsletter:







Get Collaboration Central via Email

Meghan Walsh considers herself a print journalist but is always looking for creative ways to tell a story. She covered sports and breaking news for the Arizona Republic and then government and crime for The World newspaper before becoming associate editor of InWithSkin, a lifestyle and beauty magazine. As a graduate journalism student at UC Berkeley, she has learned to incorporate photography, video and multimedia into her storytelling. Meghan also works for the Investigate Reporting Program.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

13:15

Collab/Space 2012: Building Trust, Tools and Relationships for Collaborating

As the recent Collab/Space 2012 event made clear, the longevity of individual news outlets increasingly relies on a willingness and ability to collaborate.

Journalists, technologists and other media makers from a range of news, public media and non-profit organizations came together from across the country for the daylong event, which was hosted by the University of California at Berkeley's Investigative Reporting Program (IRP) and PBS MediaShift.

Going from "Me" to "We"

"It's not about us," PBS MediaShift Executive Editor Mark Glaser said. "It's about the people. It should be about how we can do it together to serve people in a better way."

Glaser described a culture of "I" in journalism: I want to get the story. I want the award. Collab/Space 2012, he said, was designed to help shift the journalism community's thinking beyond "I" and back toward what brought people into this profession to begin with.

Before the age of the Internet, collaboration was a terminable offense, observed the IRP's Lowell Bergman. But the benefits of collaboration -- from gaining additional resources to cover a story, to reaching a wider audience -- have come to outweigh individual egos, something that was evident as attendees openly discussed challenges and solutions over the course of the day.

bavc-tweet.jpg

Speaker after speaker reiterated that as financial resources continue to evaporate and social media enables more and more people to be content producers, the industry is going to have to adapt or die.

"If journalism institutions are shrinking and anyone with a smartphone is a journalist and deep investigative stories are being replaced by web hits, maybe it's time to start thinking outside the organization," Investigative News Network Executive Editor Evelyn Larubia said.

"When change comes, who survives?" asked Ulrich Nettesheim, an organizational psychologist at Berkeley's Haas School of Business, who ran an interactive exercise with the group. "The ones ready, willing and able to adapt."

Tools for Collaboration

The first half of the day was dedicated to introducing companies that can help facilitate the collaboration process.

Wendy Levy grabbed the crowd's attention when she introduced Sparkwise, a cloud-based platform that transforms raw metrics into easily digested and compelling stories using video, audio and text. Although Sparkwise wasn't explicitly created for journalists, Levy argued that in order to collaborate it will be necessary for the industry to find expedient and intelligent ways to publish data in a place where it can be aggregated with information from similar organizations. The largest obstacle, she said, is getting reporters to be willing to share their data.

civic-commons-tweet.jpg

Storify co-founder Burt Herman described how Storify allows journalists to curate social media, thus collaborating with users to tell a story. "Everybody is a reporter. Not everybody is a journalist," he said, emphasizing the value of the journalist's curatorial role. Read Herman's Storify coverage of Collab/Space here.

Another platform that enables real-time collaborative storytelling is ScribbleLive, which MediaShift used to provide live coverage of the day's events, including tweets, photos and videos. GitHub, which creates tools for open-source code development, was also present. GitHub has grown into the largest code host in the world and makes it easier to collaborate and share code.

It's the People, Stupid.

While attendees spent a good amount of time talking tools and strategies for managing collaboration, the overarching theme of the conference was relationships, which are at the core of any team effort. A few truths emerged: All players in a collaboration must trust each other, be willing to show their hand, and have faith in the common goal.

Some even wondered if relationship management should become part of journalists' core training. "Should a class on managing relationships be taught at journalism schools?" asked Meghann Farnsworth, distribution and online community manager at the Center for Investigative Reporting and California Watch, via Twitter -- to which Andrew Haeg, Public Insight Network co-founder, responded, "Yes":

relationship-tweet.jpg

Do you agree? And if you were at Collab/Space, what did you think of the event? Any highlights I missed? If you weren't there, are there any questions about the day's discussion that I or one of the other attendees or speakers can answer for you?

Meghan Walsh considers herself a print journalist but is always looking for creative ways to tell a story. She covered sports and breaking news for the Arizona Republic and then government and crime for The World newspaper before becoming associate editor of InWithSkin, a lifestyle and beauty magazine. As a graduate journalism student at UC Berkeley, she has learned to incorporate photography, video and multimedia into her storytelling. Meghan also works for the Investigate Reporting Program.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

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