The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Mar 01, 2010

Breakout Report 1: New Models for Professional Journalism - Day 1

Posted by Robertson Adams


Session 1: March 1, 2010

  • Facilitator: Anders Gyllenhaal, Executive Editor, The Miami Herald
  • Scribe: LuAnn Lovlin, The Winnipeg Foundation

How do mainstream media work with all the new technologies and start-ups emerging, and how can foundations fit in, in a big way?

Forces have to work together more effectively.  Both traditional media and new start-ups have strengths and weaknesses and can complement each other. There is more of a grassroots approach to reporting in many new media venues, as compared with traditional media. Many traditional media want to experiment with new media tools and collaborate with others to be more robust but are unsure where or how to start.

Communities are taking different approaches with how to experiment with new media opportunities – using new tools, formats, partners, etc.  They are also looking for ways to encourage traffic and split revenue. There is a different tone and feel online than community newspapers traditionally had/have.

Existing media have to move away from the old model of advertising sales, to consider sponsorships. Many local organizations are happy to have a place to advertise that connects with their audiences.

How do traditional media look at news vetting and quality of submissions within new reporting partnerships?  Who monitors and ensures standards of professional journalism are adhered to?

The new model does come down to relinquishing some control – which is the truth and beauty of it.  The power of the exchange is most important. Partners have to let loose and encourage participation rather than worry about control. Because of the tools and technology, there is the opportunity to hear from more people, who often know more about a story or issue than a particular media outlet.

In the next few years, there is going to be a remarkable battle going on for community news. That doesn’t mean you give up on quality or that there aren’t problems…there are…you just deal with them as they come up. Work with like-minded partners.  How do you determine content – and the division of work between partners (who covers what? Is this an opportunity for new audiences?

Does partnership always mean revenue sharing? Right now, there is so much focus on content, new partners are trying to work on sustainability and think of advertising in different ways. This is still a work in progress.

Many traditional media are trying to find ways through new media opportunities. An example, the New York Times model: local news cooperatives provide content for 2 to 4 pages a few times per week. Are they using this opportunity to gather news from areas that they no longer fund reporting in? There are also examples where traditional media outlets are using journalism programs to cover areas that current media are not supporting. The changing media landscape is forcing partnerships that may not have been explored in the past.

Lots of ideas bubbling up – many new options to try. Watch for tools that can work for your community/environment.  Things have changed in the past year and new partnership opportunities could be available to take advantage of. No one single effort is going to return media to the way it was, but new approaches and partnerships are changing the face of reporting and reach. The advertising question is hard and will need more experimentation to figure out.  A broad approach to advertising (traditional) is being replaced with targeted advertising.

Public issue reporting that no longer exists at many newspapers and online sites are being filled by individual interest groups, but we have lost ground in some areas. How much do people demand / want when it comes to this type of reporting? In a democracy, it’s not a question of demand. You need to have it. Dedicated beat reporters at newspapers are being replaced by bloggers and trade publications and now reporters have to cover several beats. Where does the public go to get quality, reliable information on a particular topic?

Can we create a successful model for newspapers and make it sustainable? Many suggested we should have started this conversation a lot earlier than we did.  Being able to merge the citizen journalist and a creative marketplace is what is going to make things work.

Who performs the watchdog function? The messenger is often hated. Would the public accept taking that approach / view of the community foundation if it is to take on information needs as one if its roles? Community foundations have to walk a fine line. There are concerns that it could affect donors.

Community foundations by their role have the opportunity to discover how to tap into the citizen journalism concept.  Packaging the story has to appeal to how people consume information today, which likely isn’t the same as how traditional journalism used to report it. We can use these new media tools to figure out what will resonate with audiences. How do we inform our audiences and engage them, and be able to pay for it all?  What will define success?    

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