Tumblelog by Soup.io
Newer posts are loading.
You are at the newest post.
Click here to check if anything new just came in.

March 29 2010

18:39

Better Coordination Needed to Map Local Media Ecologies

Back in 2008, I co-organized a conference called Beyond Broadcast. That year's theme was "mapping public media," and was designed to both call out the rising importance of maps as a platform for sharing digital media, and to "map" the fragmented universe of public service media projects.

The maps I found at the time underscored the siloed nature of news production. There were maps of public TV stations, community media projects, and citizen bloggers, all maintained separately by different entities and aimed at very different users. Such isolation made it difficult to trace the relationships between these different kinds of outlets in any one place.

However, as concerns about local media ecologies have sharpened -- spurred in part by the focus of the Knight Commission on the information needs of communities -- such mapping has taken on a new urgency. Knight provides interested locales with a starting point: A simple survey for assessing the health of their information environment. The Knight Media Policy Initiative at the New America Foundation (NAF), where I'm now a fellow, has begun to develop a set of analyses of local media/governance ecologies.

The goal is to "align policy recommendations with needs on the ground," said Tom Glaisyer, who is coordinating NAF's initiative, and plans to work with others seeking similar information. Various scans of the community media landscape have already been launched, including a survey by the Free Press, a field scan by NAMAC, and this crowdsourced directory of cable access stations. One-off accounts of local news ecologies have also become more common, like Pew Research Center's January study of Baltimore's "news ecosystem" -- the disarray of which was famously chronicled in the HBO series "The Wire." Pew's study suggests that, amidst a rapidly expanding universe of local news projects, newspapers are still leading the pack in providing original reporting, but also notes:

The array of local outlets within this snapshot is already substantial, and as times goes on, new media, specialized outlets and local bloggers are almost certain to grow in number and expand their capacity, particularly if the Sun and other legacy media continue to shrink. New outlets such as local news aggregators, who combine this increasingly mixed universe into one online destination, have cropped up in some other cities such as San Diego. There is a good deal of innovation going on around the country, much of it exciting and promising. But as of 2009, this is what the news looks like in one American city.

A Bird's-Eye View

In order to get a better sense of community news across the country, The National Center for Media Engagement (NCME) embarked on an ambitious project to combine several media maps into one using Google Earth.

Funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the NCME generally works with public radio and TV stations to help them develop outreach strategies for local communities. This map emphasizes those stations, but also includes a variety of other "layers" that represent possible community allies for media makers, such as historically black colleges and universities. Also noted are rising efforts to wire communities for broadband access, and news projects underwritten by funders, including Knight, the Ford Foundation, MacArthur, and CPB.

san francisco map.jpgLayer by layer, the map provides a fascinating look at the geographic distribution of different funding priorities, such as grants that provide media resources to communities facing waves of foreclosures. When all of the layers are clicked on, the map offers a snapshot of how particular locations -- such as San Francisco, pictured at left -- are thick with overlapping projects and outlets, while other parts of the country go begging for resources. Lone stations -- take KILI Radio in Porcupine Butte, South Dakota, for example -- dot the map among blank expanses of terrain, while a cluster of dots in a big, blue stretch remind us that Hawaii has its own public media presence.

This map is just a start: NCME promises its members that, "soon, we'll implement a similar mapping interface to help you discover funding partners, potential local partners, and stories about public media's profound local impact." But there are other layers to be added, too, that would tell a more complete story about all of the various outlets and independent projects providing vital news and information across the country.

Mapping From the Bottom Up

For Sandra Ball-Rokeach, a professor at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School of Communication, a crucial missing layer is ethnic media. Ball-Rokeach heads up the Metamorphosis Project, which studies how the communications habits of urban communities are shifting as they become more diverse and globalized.

metamorphosis_map.jpg

The project boasts its own map of neighborhoods throughout Los Angeles where researchers have been deployed to interview residents, organizations, and business and community leaders. Their goal is to develop a deep understanding of what they call "indigenous storytelling networks."

Their research reveals that stories about diverse communities are often reported by local ethnic media outlets, which might be speaking only to one portion of the community. These stories are then passed along through both personal networks and through community organizations, like local non-profits.

In this model, the health of the storytelling network is contingent upon other aspects of the community, what Metamorphosis researchers call "the communication action context." These factors include the availability of public spaces, neighborhood safety, and transportation resources, as well as more familiar infrastructure provisions like broadband access. If community residents are discouraged from talking to one another because their context is lacking, then simply establishing new news projects won't fix the problem.

"People put together these ecologies," said Ball-Rokeach. "They're not put together for them."

While NCME's map uses technology to aggregate information about existing and proposed media projects, Ball-Rokeach and her team use a variety of face-to-face investigation methods, including long-form interviews and focus groups, to determine how people are actually sharing and using news to "accomplish everyday goals."

She describes a current USC local media project, called "Alhambra Source," which builds upon Metamorphosis research in the city of Alhambra, bordering Los Angeles to the east. With a population of less than 100,000, Alhambra has large numbers of Latino and Chinese residents. Ball-Rokeach said much of the local reporting is conducted by outlets who communicate with their users in Mandarin. The "Alhambra Source" site will translate news summaries into Spanish, English and Mandarin, allowing stories to be shared more easily across different parts of the community, as well as providing opportunities for residents to share their own stories.

"It's kind of exciting," she said. "We understand that the likelihood of success is low, but we think it's worthwhile because creating sites for homogenous populations is probably not where the action is, given that even medium-sized communities are becoming more diverse."

Bridging the Gap

In order to make sophisticated funding and policy decisions, national efforts like the FCC's current Future of Media Project will need to find ways to bridge these disparate approaches. Right now, communications researchers are still asking very different questions, and attending to different priorities.

Developing common questions and data collection standards will require time, effort and focused collaboration. The challenge is not small, especially given the rapid changes in communications technology, and the pace of experimentation.

"It's a very dynamic process," said Ball-Rokeach. "People resist our efforts to make them static."

Jessica Clark is director of the Center for Social Media's Future of Public Media project, a Knight Media Policy Fellow at the New America Foundation, and the co-author of Beyond the Echo Chamber: Reshaping Politics Through Networked Progressive Media.

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

March 23 2010

12:33

Post-postal

Imagine an America in which everyone has an internet connection, a device to use it, and a printer.

Ruth Goldway, the chairman of the U.S. Postal Regulatory Commission, imagined such a world when the head of the U.K.’s Royal Mail International asked at an industry conference a year ago what Google would do with the Postal Service. Goldway (who hadn’t read my book) replied, “They’d give every household a computer and a printer.” (And I’d add, of course, a broadband connection.)

Goldway was just speculating. As someone who believes in the Postal Service’s universal service obligation, it makes sense that she’d wonder about universal connectivity.

Now — as is my habit — I’ll take it farther — too far — and ask: When we all are connected, do we need a Postal Service? Or what kind of Postal Service do we need? What still needs to be delivered? What are the economics of that delivery — who’s being served and who should pay? Do we still need daily (let alone Saturday) delivery? Do we need to guarantee physical delivery to every address in America? How much could we save? Can the market take over delivery of things while the net takes over delivery of information and communication? What’s the impact on publishing and advertising, on retail, on education?

These are fascinating questions I’ve been tossing back and forth with a new friend, John Callan, a high-level consultant in the delivery industry. He did read my book (and gave Goldway a copy) and came to visit me to talk about the post office in the Google age. Callan, his colleagues, and I are thinking of holding an event to explore these questions and opportunities.

The Postal Service is forecast to lose $7.8 billion in 2010. A USPS presentation here reveals the dynamics: a 17% decline in volume from ‘06-’09; a forecast 37% drop in first class ‘09-’20. With its universal service obligation, the USPS has to deliver to 150 million addresses a day. With its post offices, it has 36,500 retail locations, more than McDonald’s, Starbucks, Walgreens, and Wal-Mart in the U.S. combined — and it’s not allowed to close offices for economic reasons. Its retiree health benefits alone cost $5 billion a year. Dropping Saturday delivery, as has been proposed, would save $3 billion a year — but that doesn’t solve the problem. Federal Times says the USPS is “officially in a panic” (not a bad thing, I’d say) because it could lose $250 billion in a decade.

The US Postal Service as we know it is, in a word, like much of the rest of the economy disrupted (or, if you prefer, doomed). I think it’s time to ask the radical question: Do we need it?

If all of us are connected, we don’t need the USPS to deliver letters; email is precisely the reason that first class mail is already plummeting. We consumers are, in my view, subsidizing the delivery of advertising because 71% of the USPS margin available to cover its costs comes from first class, only 21% from advertising. Yet in 2009, the USPS delivered an equivalent number of ads vs letters and by 2020 it will deliver far more ads (86 billion ads vs. 53 billion letters, according to the USPS projection). Should an ad-delivery service be the province of a government-anointed entity? I don’t think so.

So let’s zero-base the Postal Services’ services: Once more, information and communication can be handled electronically. Commercial delivery should be handled commercially. There will be an increase in parcel delivery as more and more retail moves online; that’s a profitable business the market should take over. Junk mail should pay full freight — if it is still delivered once mobile becomes a better, more targeted, and more efficient delivery mechanism for coupons and such (and if do-not-mail lists threaten to cut their volume). Magazines? Sorry, but I don’t really want to subsidize their businesses — and besides, tablet triumphalists insist we’ll be using iPads before you know it. Do we need six-day-a-week delivery to every one of 150 million addresses in America then? No; delivery of things is made on an as-ordered basis. What about out-of-the-way addresses (see: Sarah Palin)? Maybe that requires some subsidy, but that would be minimal.

What about the post offices? The USPS presentation shows far lower costs if these services were run through partners (e.g., other retailers), online, and self-service machines.

What about delivery of government paperwork? Well, it’s ludicrous that we’re not given the option to fill out the census online. We are shifting our taxes online.

Mind you, I have nothing against mailmen anymore than I have anything against pressmen. It’s just that they work in antiquated industrial structures and we can find not only efficiency but improvement of service thanks to digital — if we are all connected.

That is why I wish the FCC broadband plan went farther faster (as is happening elsewhere in the world), assuring everyone a high-speed connection quickly. This examination of the Postal Service is just one example of the impact universal connectivity would have on the economy. Some of that impact is painful — lost jobs, severance cost, unused real estate, mothballed trucks. But much of that impact is positive — improved service, reduced costs, reduced environmental impact, new opportunities, new entrepreneurship, new innovation. New companies would emerge to take up the opportunities this change presents, creating new jobs and value.

That’s why I was so impressed with Chairman Goldway’s answer to the WWGD? question: Rather than trying to paddle against the flood, she was at least willing to at least wonder about going with the flow.

I’ll ask: What happens if we spend capital not on money-losing, dying institutions (repeat: $250 billion losses over a decade) but on subsidies to get every American connected? If we fully examine the opportunities that presents, it could have a profound impact on policy, budgeting, and many sectors ofsociety. Let’s model that impact on the economy.

So Callan and company and I would like to get together both incumbents and entrepreneurs to imagine the near-future world of delivery after digital ubiquity. I’d like to continue the discussion with other sectors: newspapers and media, obviously, but also education (how would it change if every child were connected and equipped?); retail; real estate (what happens when all that retail leaves its brick-and-mortar stores?); financial services (why the hell are banks still building branches?); government; and on and on. That is what should inform the policy debate over broadband policy: Let’s map out all the opportunities — for entrepreneurial innovation and growth, for savings, for improvements in life, for export value — and let that inform the resources and speed we put into universal broadband.

What do you think?

February 23 2010

16:34

US Digest: NYT launches hyperlocal, HuffPost chases students, Shatner plays Twitterer, and more

Starting this week, the editor’s blog will feature an afternoon roundup of all things media from over the pond. From the hugely important to the very inconsequential, check in for a choice of America’s journalistic goings on.


NYT explore new avenues with another hyperlocal blog

Starting off small today, with news that the New York Times is launching another hyperlocal blog. this time in conjunction with students from New York University (NYU).

The new blog, which will report on New York’s East Village, will come under the Times’ URL but be developed and launched by students from the NYU Studio 20 Journalism Masters programme.

Two NY hyperlocals were launched by the paper last year under a channel called ‘The Local’. One covers Clinton Hill and Fort Greene in Brooklyn, the other Maplewood, Millburn and South Orange in New Jersey. Those blogs featured student contributions from the start, but were helmed by Times staff (although the former was recently turned over to students from CUNY). The new East Village blog is edited by a Times staffer but will be largely overseen, from inception to launch, by NYU students.

Jessica Roy, blogger at NYULocal and member of the East Village project said:

While the site will function in a similar way to the hyperlocal sites the Times already has running in Ft. Greene/Clinton Hill and Maplewood, this will be the first time journalism students will be heavily involved in the site’s content and design process before the launch.

It will be interesting to see how this ties in with the reported NYT plans to hide their blogs away behind a paywall. Can the Freakonomics blog, Paul Krugman, and other NYT blog big-hitters tempt readers to pay? Can a bunch of students from NYU?

Arianna Huffington admits spending “a lot of time” on college campuses

The NYT are not the only ones hanging around campuses and jumping in bed with students, “I’ve spent a lot of time on campuses lately” admits Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post.

But Arianna is not, apparently, just trying to recapture a youth she threw away on “promise, passion, intellectual curiosity, and vitality”. She is referring to the launch of HuffPost College, a new section of the Huffington Post devoted to the promising, passionate, intellectually curious, and vital students out there, and presumably to the billions of normal students too.

Edited by Jose Antonio Vargas, our Tech and Innovations editor, with the help of Leah Finnegan, a recent graduate of the University of Texas and the former editor of the Daily Texan, HuffPost College is designed to be a virtual hub for college life, bringing you original and cross-posted material from a growing list of college newspapers.

“Announcing HuffPost College: No SAT scores or admission essays needed” reads Arianna’s headline.

Just an internet connection then, which everyone in America must have by now, right? Hmmm…. Published yesterday, the results of an FCC study into internet use in America show that a third of the population don’t have broadband internet access – some 93 million –  and the majority of those don’t have any access whatsoever.

Here is John Horrigan, who oversaw the survey for the FCC, making the findings sound impressively grotesque:

Overall internet penetration has been steady in the mid-70 to upper 70 per cent range over the last five years. Now we’re at a point where, if you want broadband adoption to go up by any significant measure, you really have to start to eat into the segment of non-internet-users.

Fortunately for Arianna Huffington, those remaining blissfully un-penetrated (albeit in danger of being eaten into by hungry internet providers) are “disproportionately older and more likely to live in rural areas”, and not the vigourous youth, who are probably desperate to spend their time out of college at home reading about college.

Shatner to play Twitterer

One elderly American well in tune with all things online is Justin Halpern’s dad. Even if he doesn’t quite get why. Justin Halpern’s dad is the man behind Justin Halpern’s Twitter account, “Shit My Dad Says.” Although this is slightly old story already, news that William Shatner will be playing an curmudgeonly, 74 year-old man whose live-in 29 year-old son tweets “shit that he says” is too ridiculous to pass up. If CBS are in luck, the account’s 1,187,371 followers, and many more, will tune in to hear William Shatner say this:

A parent’s only as good as their dumbest kid. If one wins a Nobel Prize but the other gets robbed by a hooker, you failed.

And many, many other 140-character pearls of wisdom far to rude for the very mild-mannered Journalism.co.uk. I for one prefer Justin Halpern’s dad’s personal choice of James Earl Jones, and appalud his straight talking response to suggestions that colour is an issue.

He wanted James Earl Jones to play him. I was like, ‘But you’re white.’ He was like, ‘Well, we don’t have to be! Who gives a [censored]? You asked me who I thought, and that’s who I think.’

Who could possibly resist the powerful combination of Halpern Snr’s coarse tweets and Darth Vader’s husky voice?

Largest YouTube content provider reaches 1 billion views

One million followers is an impressive landmark in the Twitterverse, it puts you up there in the Twittersphere with such luminaries as Stephen Fry and Ashton Kutcher. It’s about 28,000 times as many as I have. Demand Media went a thousand times better than that though in YouTube terms yesterday, with its billionth view.

According to its site, the company, which has about 500 staff and is based in Santa Monica, provides “social media solutions that consumers really want”. Demand is the largest content supplier to YouTube, owning around 170,000 videos available on the site.

Co-founder of Demand Shawn Colo discusses the YouTube platform and the company’s media strategy, courtesy of Beet.TV.

Rampant cutbacks trumped by loaded shotgun

Finally, from Editor & Publisher, the happy news that redundancy is no longer the most frightening thing in the newsroom.

Employees at the Grand Forks Herald, Chicago, were more than a little surprised to find a loaded shotgun in a closet at the paper’s head offices.

“No notes, no threats, no nothing – just a loaded shotgun in a case in a closet in a common area, five rounds in it,” Grand Forks Police Lt. Grant Schiller said.

For those staffers who may not have already jumped to this conclusion, Herald editor Mike Jacobs made it clear that: “Carrying a loaded gun into the building is a dismissible offense.”

Newspaper journalists, in an age when your profession is almost a dismissable offence in itself, please, leave your loaded shotguns at home.

Image of East Village by Joe Madonna

Image of weapons ban sign by Dan4th

Similar Posts:



January 21 2010

19:14

The FCC’s future of media project

The Federal Communications Commission today posted its notice for public comment for its “examination of the future of media and the information needs of communities in a digital age.” It’s an ambitious undertaking, to say the least.

The notice lists 42 questions exploring topics that range from the travails of the newspaper industry to what our kids are watching when their parents aren’t around. One of the questions I liked best was No. 8:

Compared to earlier decades, are Americans more or less likely to seek and find more specialized media (i.e., that focused on a specific topic, appealing to a specific demographic group, or promoting a similar ideology or world view)? What are the positive and negative consequences of such patterns?

In my mind, this is the $64,000 question that gets at the role of mainstream media going forward. Will there be media sources that have some measure of credibility across diverse communities, like newspapers in the old days? Or more to the point, is there any role for mainstream media going forward?

Lower down, there’s a group of questions — Nos. 12 through 16 — on business models and financial trends. This is where I wanted to see some recognition that the nonprofit sector is responding to societal needs with innovation and creativity that complement the for-profit sector and eventually may become part of it. But questions about the nonprofit model were scattered throughout the document and didn’t seem particularly well informed. For instance, No. 25 asks in part:

What should be the role of non-profit media that are not noncommercial broadcast licensees (for instance, non-profit websites, news services, mobile applications, or reporting-oriented organizations)?

Likewise, No. 29 asks in part:

In general, how much journalism and other forms of information provision can be supported by private-sector non-profit sources?

That’s a bit like asking how many web pages can be created on the Internet. A better question might be, what is the case for philanthropy, and is it gaining traction with foundations and grassroots supporters? Put another way, do readers/listeners/viewers think of journalism as a socially beneficial endeavor that merits their support like a disease foundation or social service provider?

But the document does suggest that the FCC has some appreciation for what the sector has accomplished so far. It states:

(T)he Future of Media project starts with the assumption that many of the challenges encountered in today’s media environment will be addressed by the private for-profit and non-profit sectors, without government intervention. We will remain mindful of the Hippocratic Oath of physicians, “First, do no harm.”

Let’s hope so.

January 06 2010

15:00

Eric Newton: Shame on us if we don’t take the steps needed to feed knowledge to our democracy

[In October, the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy issued its report on how our media need to evolve to serve the public interest in the digital age. The effort included some big names: Google's Marissa Mayer, former solicitor general Ted Olson, ex-L.A. Times editor John Carroll, former FCC chairman Reed Hundt, and new media researcher danah boyd among them. Here our friend Eric Newton of the Knight Foundation explains how the report fits in a tradition of media self-examination and issues a call to action. —Josh]

Way back in the age of paper, in 1986, professor James Beniger, then at Harvard, produced a useful chart on the civilian labor force of the United States. It showed how the bulk of American workers had moved during the past two centuries from working in agriculture to industry to service, and now, to information. Point being: the digital age didn’t just sneak up on us. It’s been a long, slow evolution. So shame on us for not changing our rules and laws and institutions for this new age.

We were well warned. Just after World War II, the Hutchins Commission said that traditional media could do much better: they should take on the social responsibility of providing the news “in a context that gives it meaning.” In the 1960s, the Kerner Commission said mainstream media wasn’t diverse enough to properly tell the story of this changing nation. Same decade: the Carnegie Commission said the status quo was simply not working, that public broadcasting must be created to fill the gap.

After that, a stream of reports — from the University of Pennsylvania, from Columbia University and others — agreed and repeated the same three fundamental findings:

— Hutchins: Our news systems are not good enough,

— Kerner: They don’t engage everyone,

— Carnegie: We need alternatives.

Here comes digital media, and — boom! — an explosion of alternatives. And we’re all — shocked? Apparently. So let’s try it again. This time, the big report comes from the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, prepared by the Aspen Institute with a grant from Knight Foundation, where I work.

A new examination of a familiar problem

Why a new commission? We are now deep into the second decade of the World Wide Web. It was our hope that when our leaders were finally ready to change things, they would consider a new perspective. Hutchins, Kerner and Carnegie and the others focused on what should be done to improve, diversify, add to — and nowadays the talk is to save — traditional media.

The Knight Commission started with communities, by visiting them and hearing from their residents. News and information, the commission says, are as important to communities as good schools, safe streets or clean air. Journalism, it says, does not need saving so much as it needs creating.

As a former newspaper editor, that last point seems pretty important to me. Of the nation’s 30,000 burgs, towns, suburbs and cities, how many are thoroughly covered by the current news system? Ten percent? Five? Less? We’re talking about knowing how to get, sometimes for the first time, the news and information we need to run our communities and live our lives.

Is the Knight Commission making a difference? We hope so. The Federal Communications Commission has hired Internet expert Steve Waldman to study the agency, top to bottom, thinking of reforms with Knight’s 15 recommendations in mind. Free Press, the nation’s largest grassroots media policy group, embraced the report, especially its call for universal affordable broadband. Ernie Wilson, dean of USC’s Annenberg School and chair of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, announced he is boosting innovation in public media. CPB backed NPR’s Project Argo in a partnership with Knight Foundation.

Community lawmakers are agreeing with commissioner and former FCC chair Michael Powell’s points about “information healthy communities,” about the role of open government and public web sites in local information flow. Commissioner Reed Hundt, also a former FCC chair, presented the Knight findings to the Federal Trade Commission.

Librarians across the country are pushing the role they can play as digital training and access centers. In addition to its dozens of media innovation grants, Knight Foundation itself took the commission’s advice: it has made more than $5 million in grants to libraries.

Taking the next steps

Now what? The policy work needs to come down to the detail level. Steve Coll and New America Foundation are among those thinking about that. How can we really spur more marketplace innovation? How can government rules and laws make it easier for newspapers to be nonprofits, treat student and nonprofit journalists equally, require the teaching of news literacy?

The hard part is ahead of us: that is, involving every aspect of our communities in this issue, governments, nonprofits, traditional media, schools, universities, libraries, churches, social groups — and, especially, citizens themselves. How do you do that? How do you make “news and information” everyone’s issue? It’s a tall order, perhaps the most difficult thing of all.

Universities could help here. Nearly two thirds of the nation’s high school graduates at least start out in a college or university of some kind. These institutions could make news literacy courses mandatory for incoming students. Understanding and being able to navigate the exploding world of news and information is as fundamental to the college students of our nation as knowing English. Stony Brook has already been paving that path. There, nearly 5,000 students have taken news literacy under the first university-wide course of its kind.

Colleges could set an example for the rest of our institutions. We are, after all, at the dawn of a new age. Who a journalist is, what a story is, what medium works, and how to manage the new interactive relationship with the people formerly known as the audience — all of these are changing as we speak. The complete metamorphosis of how a society connects the data and events of daily life to the issues and ideas that can better its life — would seem to be something colleges should want all of its students to think about.

This is hardly a short-term project. It took more than 200 years for America to change from a country where most people work growing food to one where most people work growing information. It will take time for the wholesale rewriting of America’s media policies, not to mention getting up the guts to spend the trillion dollars or more needed to remake our access to high speed digital systems and ability to use them.

Yet all of this is needed for America to become an information-healthy nation. A nation without universal, affordable broadband is like a nation without highways and railroads. We would be stuck on the surface streets of the new economy, tracing our fall from a global force to a secondary society.

More than 70 years after Hutchins, the basic story is still the same. The country’s news and information systems still aren’t good enough, still don’t engage everyone and still invite alternatives. It’s time to start doing something about this issue. Our rules, the laws, the policies — even the high school and college classes we teach — these things matter to how the news ecosystem in any given community is shaped. They can speed innovation or stunt it. So pick a recommendation — the Knight Commission lists 15 — and have at it.

[Disclosure: The Knight Foundation is a supporter of the Lab.]

December 10 2009

15:39

Next year’s news about the news: What we’ll be fighting about in 2010

I’ve helped organize a lot of future of journalism conferences this year, and have done some research for a few policy-oriented “future of journalism” white papers. And let’s face it: as Alan Mutter told On the Media this weekend, we’re edging close to the point of extreme rehash.

This isn’t to say there won’t be more such confabs, or that I won’t be attending most of them; journalists (blue-collar and shoe-leather types that they are) may not realize that such “talking” is actually the lifeblood of academia, for better or worse. However, as 2009 winds down, I do think that it might be worthwhile to try to summarize a few of the things we’ve more or less figured out this year, and point towards a few of the newer topics I see looming on the horizon. In other words, maybe there are some new things we should be having conferences about in 2010.

In the first section of this post, I summarize what I think we “kinda-sorta” learned over the past year. In the next, I want to point us towards some of the questions we should be asking in 2010.

To summarize, I think were reaching consensus on (1) the role of professional and amateur journalists in the new media ecosystem, (2) the question of what kind of news people will and won’t “pay” for, and (3) the inevitable shrinking and nicheification of news organizations. And I think the questions we should be asking next year include (1) the way changes in journalism are changing our politics, (2) the relationship between journalism, law, and public policy, (3) what kind of news networks we’ll see develop in this new ecosystem, (4) the future of j-school, and (5) the role of journalists, developers, data, and “the algorithm.”

But first, here’s what we know.

What we kinda-sorta know

As Jay Rosen has tweeted a number of times over the past few months, what’s remarkable about the recent wave of industry and academic reports on journalism is the degree to which they consolidate the “new conventional wisdom” in ways that would have seemed insane even a few years ago. In other words, we now kinda-sorta know things now that we didn’t before, and maybe we’re even close to putting some old arguments to bed. Here are some (big) fights that may be tottering toward their expiration date.

1. “Bloggers” versus “journalists” is (really, really) over. Yes yes. We’ve been saying it for years. But maybe this time it’s actually true. One of the funny thing’s about recent pieces like this one in Digital Journalist or this one from Fast Company is just how old-fashioned they seem, how concerned they are with fighting yesterday’s battles. The two pieces, of course, show that the fighting won’t actually ever go away…but maybe we need to start ignoring most of it.

2. Some information won’t be free, but probably not enough to save big news organizations. If “bloggers vs. journalists” was the battle of 2006, the battle of 2009 was over that old canard, “information wants to be free.” We can expect this fight to go on for a while, too, but even here there seems to be an emerging, rough consensus. In short: Most people won’t pay anything for traditional journalism, but a few people will pay something, most likely for content they (1) care about and (2) can’t get anywhere else. Whether or not this kind of money will be capable of sustaining journalism as we’ve known it isn’t clear, but it doesn’t seem likely. All of the current battles — Microsoft vs. Google, micropayments vs. metered paywalls, and so on — are probably just skirmishes around this basic point.

3. The news will be increasingly be produced by smaller, de-institutionalized organizations. If “bloggers vs. journalists” is over, and if consumers won’t ever fully subsidize the costs of old-style news production, and if online journalism advertising won’t ever fully equal its pulp and airwaves predecessors, than the journalism will still get produced. It will just get produced differently, most likely by smaller news organizations focusing more on niche products. Indeed, I think this is the third takeaway from 2009. Omnibus is going away. Something different — something smaller– is taking its place.

What we might be fighting about next year

So that’s what we’ve (kinda sorta) learned. If we pretend (just for a moment) that all those fights are settled, what might be some new, useful things to argue about in 2010? I’ve come up with a list of five, though I’m sure there are others.

1. What kind of politics will be facilitated by this new world? In the old world, the relationship between journalism and politics was fairly clear, and expressed in an endless series of (occasionally meaningful) cliches. But changes on one side of the equation inevitably mean changes on the other. The most optimistic amongst us argue that we might be headed for a new era of citizen participation. Pessimists see the angry town halls unleashed this summer and lament the days when the passions of the multitude could be moderated by large informational institutions. Others, like my colleague Rasmus Kleis Nielsen at Columbia, take a more nuanced view. Whatever the eventual answer, this is a question we should be trying to articulate.

2. What kind of public policies and laws will govern this new world? Law and public policy usually move a few steps “behind” reality, often to the frustration of those on the ground floor of big, social changes. There’s a reason why people have been frustrated with the endless congressional debates over the journalism shield law, and with the FTC hearings on journalism — we’re frustrated because, as far as we’re concerned (and as I noted above), we think we have it all figured out. But our government and legal system don’t work that way. Instead, they act as “consolidating institutions,” institutions that both ratify a social consensus that’s already been achieved and also tilt the playing field in one direction or another — towards incumbent newspapers, for example. So the FTC, the FCC, the Congress, the Supreme Court — all these bodies will eventually be weighing in on what they want this new journalistic world to look like. We should be paying attention to that conversation.

3. What kind of networks will emerge in this new media ecosystem? It’s a strong tenet amongst most journalism futurists that “the future of news is networked,” that the new media ecosystem will be the kind of collaborative, do-what-you-do-best-and-link-to-the-rest model most recently analyzed by the CUNY “New Business Models” project. But what if the future of news lies in networks of a different kind? What if the news networks we’re starting to see emerge are basically the surviving media companies (or big portals) diversifying and branding themselves locally? This is already going on with the Huffington Post local initiative, and we can see national newspapers like The New York Times trying out variations of this local strategy. A series of “local networks,” ultimately accountable to larger, centralized, branded organizations may not be what “networked news” theorists have in mind when they talk about networks, but it seems just as likely to happen as more “ecosystem-esque” approach.

4. What’s the future of journalism school? This one’s fairly self-explanatory. But as the profession it serves mutates, what’s in store for the venerable institution of j-school? Dave Winer thinks we might see the emergence of journalism school for all; Cody Brown thinks j-school might someday look like the MIT Center For Collective Intelligence. Either way, though, j-school probably won’t look like it does now. Even more profoundly, perhaps, the question of j-school’s future is inseparable from questions about the future of the university in general, which, much like the news and music industries, might be on the verge of its own massive shake-up.

5. Human beings, data, and “the algorithm.” This one fascinates me, and it seems more important every day. In a world of Demand Media, computational journalism, and AOL’s news production strategy, questions about the lines between quantitative, qualitative, and human journalism seem ever more pressing. If we are moving towards some kind of semantic web, what does that mean for the future of news? What role are programmers and developers playing? How will they interact with journalists? Is journalism about data, about narrative, or both? Is journalism moving from a liberal art to an information science? And so on.

These are all big, big questions. They get to the heart of democracy, public policy, law, organizations, economics, education, and even what it means to be a human being. They may not be the same questions we’ve been debating these past several years, but maybe its time to start pondering something new.

Photo by Kate Gardiner used under a Creative Commons license.

December 01 2009

18:45

FTC Should Consider Policy Reform to Support Public Media 2.0

It's been a busy season for prognosticators who examine the intersection of public policy and media. Today will be particularly hectic for them, as journalists, bloggers, public broadcasters and policy wonks pack into a session at the Federal Trade Commission to ponder, yet again, "How Will Journalism Survive the Internet Age?" (Submit your own thoughts via Twitter here).

tfon.jpg

Two weeks ago, the Future of News Summit in Minneapolis considered the fate of regional journalism. And throughout 2009, there have been countless closed-door conversations mapping out different scenarios about how policy solutions might help salvage reporting capacity.

At these events, the public or non-profit model is often presented as an answer. The amount of serious reporting is diminishing, the argument goes, so public broadcasters should rush into the breach. In their much-discussed paper, The Reconstruction of American Journalism, Michael Schudson and Len Downie put it this way:

Public radio and television should be substantially reoriented to provide significant local news reporting in every community served by public stations and their Web sites. This requires urgent action by and reform of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, increased congressional funding and support for public media news reporting, and changes in mission and leadership for many public stations across the country.

Despite the scope of the challenge, foundations and public broadcasters are taking these calls to action to heart. The CPB and Knight Foundation are teaming up to fund the $3 million Argo Project, which supports local reporting focused on specific topics by journalist-bloggers based at stations. Under the leadership of president and CEO Vivian Schiller, NPR has been making bold plays to build a multi-platform news network that bridges local and national news production.

As someone who is watching this shift of focus, it seems as though the move to increase resources for journalism is less a result of a top-down policy change, and more a matter of internal policy decisions on the part of the many organizations that comprise the public broadcasting system. You could even say it's something of a grassroots movement, with scattered reporting experiments cropping up at stations around the country.

Of course, any increase in taxpayer dollars for public broadcasting might be earmarked to support even more reporters. But serious policy proposals need to go further. Simply producing additional news doesn't address the demand side of the issue.

Engaging the Public

As we've been arguing at the Center for Social Media, successful Public Media 2.0 projects must directly convene publics to learn about and tackle shared problems. This means more than just handing out yet another serving of information to a surfeited audience; it's about engaging users at every phase -- planning, funding, production, distribution, conversation, curation, and mobilization -- to make sure that all stakeholders' voices are included. This ensures different perspectives are aired, and that content is interesting, relevant and accurate. As the "Instant White Paper" that was issued after the Future of News Summit noted:

The needs of the audience can no longer be taken for granted, and new and creative efforts must be devised to listen authentically to the public (not in a check-the-box fashion, which CPB President and CEO Patricia Harrison said tends to be the case), and then provide them with quality information that is both enticing and informative. "Draw me in. Engage me. Challenge me," said longtime public radio consultant and online attendee Israel Smith, "make the radio (or whatever platform) experience as compelling as the journalism. If not, I'll go somewhere else." As MPR's Chris Worthington put it, we need to "listen more to the audience" to understand what the gaps in journalism are we need to fill, and what sort of journalism they will value.

Okay, that's a start. Listening to audiences is good; partnering with them to solve problems would be even better. But what other policy strategies might support a media system that makes this possible? Here are a few suggestions.

Amending the Public Broadcasting Act

A more responsive, dynamic public media system is already evolving hand-in-hand with the ever-increasing availability of high-speed broadband. The FCC has been calling for its own hearings and public comments to support the creation of a national broadband plan. In response, Center for Social Media fellow Ellen Goodman, who is also a professor at Rutgers University School of Law in Camden, submitted a set of comments that outline how public media could spur broadband adoption.

To allow it to do so effectively, she suggests, Congress will need to take another look at the Public Broadcasting Act. Titled, "Digital Public Media Networks to Advance Broadband And Enrich Connected Communities," Goodman's comments offer up a set of new parameters for public media: she argues that it should be accessible, modular, engaging, networked, diverse, innovative, and transparent. Taken together, these new characteristics form the acronym "AMEND-IT" -- a provocative suggestion that will raise eyebrows at some traditional public broadcasting institutions.

A Presidential Commission

Media reformers from the Free Press have also been calling for a reboot of public broadcasting legislation. Earlier this month, executive director Josh Silver told Current, the newspaper that serves the public broadcasting sector, that the organization is lobbying the Obama administration to appoint a bi-partisan "high-level, White House-sanctioned commission" to consider "the information needs of citizens in a digitally networked democracy." This language mirrors that of the recent Knight Commission report, which makes its own pitch for boosting funding to public media.


newpublicmedia.jpg

Candace Clement of Free Press coordinates the organization's New Public Media campaign. She said that the first step in reinvigorating public media is broadening the definition of the sector.

"For us, public media means non-commercial media that is created by a wide variety of organizations and individuals," she said. "The traditional conception includes NPR and PBS, but we also include community media, and local or national providers who are providing the media that commercial media won't."

She stressed that recent legislative campaigns are focused not only on supporting new forms of media production, but on preserving the capacity of citizens to report via older platforms, such as low-power radio and cable access stations. Such platforms are still quite valuable at the local level, especially for users who haven't yet made it online, and don't often see their concerns reflected in large, for-profit media.

Clement ticked off other planks in the New Public Media campaign platform, including changing how public media is funded, taking a more critical look at governance structures, increasing diversity within the sector and the content it produces, and supporting infrastructure and technology improvements that will allow public media makers to stay accessible and relevant.

"We have a system," she said, "but it needs a lot of changes before it can do the kind of work we need it to do."


Policy solutions to support journalism are not called out explicitly in the New Public Media campaign, but are a central focus of a related Free Press campaign, Save the News. The organization marshaled more than 2,000 citizens to respond to the FTC's call for comment for today's event.

Turbulence Ahead

For many, be they reporters, citizens or news media moguls, the idea of government-supported media sets off warning bells. Some worry that federal funding could stifle criticism, generate political conflicts of interest, or at the very least result in what Jeff Jarvis described as boring "broccoli journalism."

Conservatives like Glenn Beck of Fox News see public media policy reform as a land grab by liberals that -- somewhat paradoxically given the increasingly open media ecosystem -- could muzzle free speech. Libertarians argue that government should stay out of the news business (along with everything else, thank you very much), likening it to "a welfare system for journalists." Local communities are wrestling with questions about whether their stations' top priorities should be news production or civic engagement.

All of this means that, as Richard Gingras, CEO of Salon Media quipped at the Minneapolis summit, for now at least, "The future of news is a future of conferences about the future of news."

Prognosticators, keep those bags packed.

Jessica Clark directs the Future of Public Media project at American University's Center for Social Media. There, she conducts and commissions research on media for public knowledge and action, and organizes related events like the Beyond Broadcast conference. She is also the co-author of a forthcoming book, "Beyond the Echo Chamber: Reshaping Politics Through Networked Progressive Media," due out from the New Press in December 2009.

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

Older posts are this way If this message doesn't go away, click anywhere on the page to continue loading posts.
Could not load more posts
Maybe Soup is currently being updated? I'll try again automatically in a few seconds...
Just a second, loading more posts...
You've reached the end.

Don't be the product, buy the product!

Schweinderl