Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Learning to Communicate With The Enemy

(Cue the Odd Couple theme...)Can a hardcore journalist and a big-mouthed blogger agree on transparency?? Mike Needs, Public Editor of the Akron Beacon Journal (who I recently took umbrage with) and myself have been having a very interesting email exchange re our difference of opinion on whether or not reporters should post full bios--and if this is transparency...

The exchange has been important for many reasons--Mike and I both unloaded a bit on each other via email, then through continuing the email, discovered a mutual respect and a meeting of the minds. Mike shared a salient perspective with me that I wasn't able to glean just from his column:
Once in a while I drop in on techie message groups and blogs and see how the bleeding edge crowd mocks the ink-on-dead-trees product. From their point of view, it's a dinosaur that needs to be made extinct. Ridiculed. Bashed. And, frankly, I agree with much of what they say.

But, consider this, each Sunday 400,000 people will read the Akron Beacon Journal. Even if only a modest 10 percent read my Sunday column, that's 40,000 people. When I last checked my online stats, about 400 people read me on Ohio.com each week.

Which master should I serve?

"Old-world" media have many, many problems - including the top-down authority structure, the corporate culture and all the other things you mention. I see those things changing, though, and I'm confident the evolution will produce a new generation of news communication that will salvage the strength of the old and harness the energy of the new. That's my hope, anyway.

Mike's thoughts have illuminated his position--and have thus given me a reason to reconsider my feelings about what he said and why. He didn't have to take the time to talk with me, but he did. And I responded back to him in a civilized way. In each of us there is a desire to connect and to communicate as much as to have our opinions heard and understood...and we've found a way to do this. In part it took putting our own egos aside and listening...

And I agree very much with what Mike is saying. We're not at the point where we can totally trash old media. His stats prove a point I've made here a couple of times just through observation of my geographic region. Journalism is in a major transition, and to read more of Mike's perspective--beyond the column--was very helpful (although that's not *quite* the right word.)

When it comes down to it, Mike and I simply disagree on how, or in what fashion, the the first move towards transparency should take. He has the ombudsman's perspective from hearing it from both reporters and readers. I have the perspective of someone who's moved in and out of all sorts of subcultures over the years--and has found online communication to be the single most difficult form of communication out there. He sees bios as helpful--I see simply more column-like writing as more helpful (the reporting wearing heart and mind on sleeve) Mike and I may disagree on the method that transparency can be achieved, because we are coming from different orientations towards the Internet--he as a journalist and me as a talker--but we both agree that transparency is essential to producing that new generation of news communication we both see and hope will occur.

I hope, too, that more of us can build bridges of communication and learn to respect one another. Jounalism needs the perspective of those of us who hang out in the blogosphere...and those of us who hang out in the blogosphere don't always have to harp on the obsolescence of dead-tree media (although that's never really been me) and how everybody should just do it like us.

If we do that, we might find there's more common ground than we first realized. Then, maybe working together, we can ease this massive transition just enough to not leave so many damaged and in the dust.

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