Monday, July 03, 2006

Media Giraffe: Learning What's Next (and what's not)

I keep thinking about how there has been much discussion about disruptive technologies

It's not necessarily the technologies that are disruptive as much as it is how people use them.

People created craigslist and eBay and People create blogs. People use the medium of the Internet to do things they never thought could happen. Who knew we could get out there and have conversations with people all over the world without incurring huge telephone bills??

I am struck, though, how *some* journalists do not seem to understand that blogs are conversations. With the exception of a handful of big bloggers, most blogging is conversation between people. The internet is like a town square and these are our little soap boxes.

We really *do* have the right to have conversation--whether we call all those conversations journalism...well, that's for another (legal) debate.

Yesterday, the Media Giraffe Project Summitt
concluded. Today, I'm still dehydrated and burnt-out. Can't ever seem to get enough water at these things. There was a lot of info to process, a lot of ideas and stuff going around that can't be explained post-conference

We were a small group at the end--people and journalists. We had our own takes on what went on, what happened in the four days. Many agreed that there was a lot of self-congratulatory stuff on the first days, and that at times there seemed to be two conferences (one for journalists, one for people) going on at the same time. Someone pointed out (and I forget who) that all of us in the room constituted a small group of people who are concerned about what's happening and want to do something about it (I would include some of those who had to leave before then end, too.)

Ultimately, my take is this: There are lots of problems in big newspapers that citizen efforts alone cannot fix. There are some good people who are aware of those problems (corporate ownership being a very big one) and who would like to see changes. What shape those changes will take, however, still need to be hashed out.

But pandering to the citizenry with "free blogs" and "get your voice heard!" stuff isn't going to help. If anything, in less-urban regions, might distract people from the real shenanigans that are going on in town governments--let alone keep them ignorant of what's going on nationally.

The people are not "zombies"--we are out here having conversations about all sorts of topics, and my sense is that papers want to control and co-opt those conversations by putting them under their umbrella. There's something about that idea that stinks a bit. I don't mind being listed on the local site, but I don't think I could write for them. I like writing for Corante because what I write about has a certain focus.

And I believe that local areas with only one newspaper need citizen efforts to be independent. Paul Bass of the New Haven Independent made that well as there being a need for independent investigative citizen journalism (via blog) on ePluribus Media (esp. the projects done by Ilona Meagher and Paul Thomas) and independent citizen journalism on tough topics like religious liberty being done at Talk to Action (Fred Clarkson and Bruce Wilson are men after my own heart! so great to find people who are local who share the same esoteric passionate interest)

Which leads me to what was, for me anyway, the most important part of the Summitt: meeting more local bloggers and citizen journalists (and where I learned that the small-town, independent paper journalist is just as much a "citizen" as anyone who works online.) There were so many that I can't even remember all their names. As Lisa Williams and I talked about, we need to have a place where we can list where we all are, what we do, and who we are. We need to be able to stay in touch with and support one another. Finding one another is the hardest thing. Once we do that, maintaining the connections won't be all that hard.

The citizen journalists and bloggers in New England need to be organized--and we need to do it ourselves. Our independence is more important than anything we might do to save the monolithic newspapers in most of our geographic areas.

Which leads me to those monolithic papers and big media journalism in general: stop trying to co-opt citizen journalism. There are bigger problems--corporate ownership, crappy content and sagging revenues--that can't be fixed by involving the citizenry in your efforts. If you want to continue to turn out a "professional" product, don't look to independents. Let independents do what they want to do--it is their right. All that can come out of absorbing independents--on the local scene esp.--is a wal-mart style journalism replete with overworked, underpaid and barely qualified journalists who will move on when they get a better opportunity (I have it on good information that this is already happening in many small towns.) In other words: take an inventory (or get someone to help you do it)of your own management and marketing decision-making, look at what's going wrong on the inside and fix the problems that have been building since the push for corporate ownership. Stop looking to the people to solve a series of complicated problems that they had not part in creating.

All in all, though, the Summitt was very successful. It got a bunch of us who are local, who may never have met otherwise, to finally meet face to face. It got some journalism professionals talk among themselves in a different way (Chris Peck and Steve Sila shephered that effort and stuck it out till the very end) and even if we're not on the same page or totally seeing eye to eye, more progress was made here than might have been made at other conferences...

Even if we couldn't break the Plexiglas Ceiling of journalism's upper some ways, that can't be expected. They are who they are, and the only way things will change is from the bottom up....but not by making the "bottom up" efforts part of the bottom line. That's just not our job.

Update: here's a great follow-up from Ilona (and great comment from Cho) at ePluribus Media.

Update: John Burke's 6/29 post at Editor's Weblog quotes Helen Thomas:“Anyone with a laptop thinks they’re a journalist.” This is false. Anyone with a laptop now has a voice. Not all voices are journalism, nor do they purport to be. And all those voices don't need permission from the Establishment to have conversation. and Jeff Jarvis:“Let’s not make this another bloggers vs. journalist conference, not about competition, us vs. them… That debate is over... We should be talking about opportunities, success stories, invention, creativity...." we talked about all that at the citizen journalism track. Where were you, Jeff?

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Dawno said...

What is it about "over the back fence" that some folk don't get. How does local news really spread among people? At the water cooler, at chance encounters on walks, in grocery stores, watching your kid at the park.

I'm all for opening up the pages of the big 'zines and papers to comments and blogs, but I hope the media moguls don't for a moment think that they're getting a real representative vision of what "thems out thar" think.

Nope. That's happening out on my blog and her blog and his.

re: "we need to have a place where we can list where we all are, what we do, and who we are. We need to be able to stay in touch with and support one another. Finding one another is the hardest thing. Once we do that, maintaining the connections won't be all that hard."

Have you thought about something like a moderated forum set up? There are tons of free ones (but not real pretty, user friendly or scalable)and some really nice low cost ones - although hosting can run a pretty penny if you get big and busy.

Alternatively - how 'bout a Wiki?

I'm working on setting up one now for a small reviewing site I help out at.

I know I'm not here as often as I'd like - but I always come away with deeper thoughts - thanks Tish!

Have a safe and happy 4th, enjoy the next convention (you're somewhere on the 6th, right?)

One of these days we're gonna bump into each other the way you get around!

Dawno said...

oops - the blogher conference - in my own backyard! But it's not on the 6th (saw the 06 and got confused) it's on the very days I'm flying to Ft. Benning, GA to see my son at Army basic training camp :-( Dang!!

Tish Grier said...

hey dawn! sorry you're not going to be at BlogHer :-(

A bunch of us rabble-rousers are going to be discussing different ways in which we can stay connected--whether the form is a forum or wiki or something different we'll determine in time. Right now it's just nice putting faces to names...

One thing I noticed is that the political blogosphere is pretty connected and organized--it's those of us who aren't necessarily overtly political that have some trouble connecting up. Personally, within our own ranks, we need to get away from separating bloggers into specified camps. Some of that we do to ourselves (by not linking to others who aren't overtly political) and that's something I feel we'll overcome in time. When bloggers meet face to face, we rarely have trouble getting along even if our blog content is different. We tend to tolerate one another's differences pretty well.

And I'm looking forward to the day when we finally get to meet,too!