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fpbye

New Adventures

Today is my last day at Free Press.

After seven years fighting for more diverse, independent media, quality journalism and all people’s rights to connect and communicate, I’m moving on to a new adventure.

It’s a tough time to leave. The work Free Press does is profoundly important right now.

I started at Free Press the same month the first iPhone was released. In the seven years since, media has become interwoven into our lives in ways we couldn’t have predicted. Our computers have moved from our desktops to our pockets, and technology is far more personal and intimate today than ever before. Our movements, our politics, our news and our communities are being transformed by creative people and unexpected technology. And through these tools, people are creating, collaborating and participating in media and journalism every day in ways few of us imagined seven years ago.

However, at the same time we also face a range of new threats to freedom of expression and the open Internet. From net neutrality to mass surveillance and media diversity to mega mergers, Free Press has been fighting these fights for a decade. And I know the organization has big plans for the next decade, especially at the intersection of press freedom and Internet freedom.

The team at Free Press is second to none. They are some of the most dedicated and knowledgeable people I’ve ever worked with. I’ll miss the work, but I’ll miss the team more than anything.

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The Need for Listening and Empathy in Journalism

Two recent blog posts raise this question: Just how often do news organizations actually listen to their communities?

In his post, former News & Record editor John Robinson argues that his paper doesn’t dedicate time or resources to the issues he and many other readers face on a daily basis. And the News & Record isn’t unusual. In fact, Robinson says this problem isn’t limited to newspapers: “TV news has the same news diet,” he writes, “and it’s not in touch with mine.”

In a response to Robinson, Kevin Anderson notes that many newsrooms are “subsisting on the fumes cast off by official life: crime, council meetings and planned events.” They’re spending much less time, Anderson says, on “the lived experience of their communities.”

Being Zoned Out of the News

This debate reminded me of a talk that longtime editor Tom Stites gave at UMass Amherst in 2006. “Why is it that less-than-affluent Americans are being zoned out of serious reporting?” Stites asked.

Stites noted at the time that newspapers were increasingly aiming to serve the audiences that advertisers want to reach. “Is there any wonder that less affluent Americans have abandoned newspapers and are angry at the press?” Stites asked. “They’ve abandoned newspapers … because the newspapers have abandoned them.” (more…)

Ethics for Anyone Who Commits Acts of Journalism

Right now there are three major efforts under way to rethink journalism ethics for our changed media landscape. The Online News Association and the Society for Professional Journalists have both launched ethics discussions with their members, and the Poynter Institute recently published a major book on “The New Ethics of Journalism.”

Poynter is using the occasion of the book to jump-start a broader conversation about truth and trust in the 21st century, the first event of which happened this week in New York City. Sponsored by PBS MediaShift, craigconnects, the Ford FoundationAmerican University’s School of Communication and NewsCred, the event featured a panel of journalists and academics from the New York Times, BuzzFeed, Huffington Post, NYU, AP, and the Seattle Times. There were some great discussions on sponsored content, the nature of truth versus facts, and the intersection of reporting, opinion and activism. But I won’t get into those here. Instead, I want to talk about the one theme that seemed to undergird the entire evening: journalism’s relationship with its community.

One of the most important points of the evening was made by Mark Glaser of PBS MediaShift in his opening remarks. He said, “These are not ethics for journalists, but ethics for anyone who commits acts of journalism.” And indeed, Kelly McBride and Tom Rosenstiel, the editors of the new Poynter book, have worked hard to think about an ethical framework that can be relevant and meaningful to the wide array of people who are participating in journalism today.

Rosenstiel echoed this point later in the evening when he argued that today ethics has to be embedded in every piece of journalism, not just a set of values ascribed to by a newsroom or organization. The way content spreads online means that journalism is often disconnected from its source so we can’t rely on brands to establish trust with the reader. Audiences need to see, within the journalism itself, why this piece is worthy of trust and how it reflects ethical reporting. This is why Rosenstiel and McBride put more emphasis in their new book on transparency over independence, a decision which itself has sparked some useful debate. (more…)

A Crash Course in Verification and Misinformation in the Wake of the Boston Bombing

Over the last two weeks I set out to read every article written about errors, misinformation, verification and accuracy in the wake of the Boston bombing media coverage.  What follows are a few thoughts and almost 40 links, organized thematically, to some of the best articles on these themes.

conflictingreportsThis is the first of a few posts as I analyze and extract key take-aways and concrete lessons from the collection of articles. As a starting point, for those who want to study media coverage of the Boston bombing as a case study of breaking news verification and errors, below is a round-up of some of the best articles. There are (many) others, and some good ones I have no doubt missed (add them to the comments section).

I don’t agree with all of these viewpoints, but together they present a well-rounded debate about these issues.

Guidelines and How To Posts:

Some of the best posts were the most concrete, editors, journalists and citizens discussing their best practices and guidelines for responsible reporting and careful verification. There is a lot of good advice contained in these posts. (For more concrete advice see my ongoing round-up of tools and resources for verifying social media content) (more…)

Media Consolidation Won’t Save Journalism

The Federal Communications Commission is pushing a plan to gut its 30-year-old newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership ban. This proposal would allow one company to own a local paper, two TV stations and up to eight radio stations in a single market. Advocates of more media consolidation argue that allowing TV stations and newspapers to merge is critical to cutting costs and saving local journalism.

This is the same argument the Bush FCC used to try to push through the same bad rules in 2007. Back then, the Senate voted the rules down and the courts later threw them out. It’s time to put this argument to bed for good: More media consolidation won’t save journalism. (more…)

Three Ideas: Testing Legislation, Newsroom Archives, and Technology Playgrounds

I took advantage of my holiday time off to catch up on my Instapaper read later list. As I read I try to tweet out the best articles, or key ideas I’m grappling with, but some pieces demand more than a tweet (but less than a full blog post). Here are three articles whose ideas I’m still mulling over and that I think deserve more attention.

Washington Post – Stop guessing whether a bill will work. Instead, test it.
Political reporter Dylan Matthews proposes a federal agency dedicated to running experiments on public policy proposals before legislation is adopted. The idea here is to test what will and won’t work in the real world and bring that research to bear on political debates. While I like Matthews’ idea of testing legislation, I also wonder how this might be built into solutions journalism that would be dedicated to helping us address wiked problems. This idea also seems like a powerful way to counteract the trend of hindsight journalism. It may not be an either/or, I’d like to see both governments and news organizations taking up some of these ideas and challenges and adopting a model of creating legislation that looks a bit more like agile development and participatory community planning.

Reporters’ Lab – Creating a newsroom ‘answer machine’
I’ve long been deeply interested in how news organizations can better leverage their archives to help serve the public, add context to current events, and drive new traffic to their site. Tyler Dukes’ proposal for using news organizations’ archives to help create a newsroom “answer machine” is superb, while not without its challenges. He focuses on how this type of project could help improve reporting but I can see wonderful applications of this kind of app in politics and education as well. For another great project focused on better using media archives be sure to check out the recently launched Pop Up Radio Archive.

Designing for Diversity – Designing Creative Technology Playgrounds for Families
I have been thinking about the role of play in my own work as well as in the lives of my two sons. My life has been animated by a healthy tension between my fascination with technology and my affinity for wilderness and the outdoors. Where these two passions intersect is in the realm of play and exploration. Whether it was dismantling kitchen appliances and putting them back together or building wilderness shelters and treehouses, I loved to make things and engage actively in the world – both natural and manmade. I want to nurture that same passion in my sons, regardless of what their interests are – music or machines, art or airplanes, trees or technology – I hope they’ll approach it all with playfulness and a sense of wonder. This post, a summary of a discussion at MozFest in London, touches on some of those themes.

Building a Stronger Foundation for Press Freedom and Accountability Journalism in a Digital Age

Today I’m part of an incredible team launching a new project focused on strengthening nonprofit news and accountability journalism.

The Freedom of the Press Foundation is unique in its scope, its substance and its style. The Foundation is rooted in the idea that, while the structures of journalism are changing, the critical role of journalism in our democracy is not. It will fund critical and cutting edge work by nonprofit journalism organizations, transparency and watchdog groups and independent journalists.

This project builds on some of the key threads I’ve been working on and writing about for years and addresses three key problems head on: (more…)

Has Your Local News Been Outsourced? 10 Tools to Identify and Support Truly Local Journalism

Who produces the local news you read, see and hear? Has it been outsourced to people in another state, or maybe even another country? How can you tell?

On this week’s episode of This American Life, Ira Glass and the team explore what happens when U.S. media corporations outsource local journalism to workers around the world. Most troubling, perhaps, is the way these companies are trying to hide what they are doing. Can someone sitting at a computer in the Philippines really cover the South Side of Chicago, and do Chicago residents have a right to know who is writing these stories?

Similarly Free Press has tracked and revealed how more than 100 local TV stations have outsourced their local journalism to their competitors, so that in some cities only one newsroom is producing the news for three stations. And just last week Steve Myers at Poynter reflected on what makes a paper local in light of cuts backs and consolidation at Advance Publications papers in Alabama and New Orleans.

We are at a moment where these companies are radically changing how the news is made. However, we are also seeing new hyperlocal and nonprofit news organizations emerging, public radio and TV are investing in local journalism and some newspapers are remaining fiercely local and committed to public service journalism.

The question is, how do you tell the difference between something that’s produced locally and something that’s been outsourced? Here are 10 resources that will help you identify and support truly local journalism. (more…)

Three Resources for Newsrooms Measuring Community Engagement

The recent history of journalism in America is full of tectonic shifts, brought on by changes in technology and society. For too long, many of those changes happened outside of newsrooms, but increasingly we are seeing fundamental cultural shifts in news organizations that are changing how, and to sometimes why, journalism is done.

One of those shifts has been the emphasis on community engagement. The media landscape is shifting and becoming more participatory, and our communities want to do more than just read the news. They want to be co-creators, collaborators, distributors and they want to put the news to work, to improve their lives and communities. At the same time, financial challenges have forced news organizations to build new networks of support with their audience and community.

While newsrooms have invested in various forms of community engagement – from mobilizing local bloggers into coordinated networks, to robust social media strategies and community events – there is still a lot we don’t know about how to assess and measure the impact of community engagement. (more…)

Hindsight Journalism

In an earlier post I picked apart Ted Koppel’s graduation speech to the students at UMass Amherst. However, I wanted to return to his remarks briefly and take a closer look at one portion of the speech that I didn’t contend with in my earlier post.

For quite some time I’ve been wondering if we are entering an era of “hindsight journalism,” where some of the most important stories of our time emerge after the fact. This kind of journalism shines a spotlight on critical issues, but serves as more of an autopsy than an antiseptic. It dissects issues like specimen, instead of shining a light on problems before or as they emerge. Hindsight journalism emphasizes having an explanation for how a problem happened – the chain of events – over why a problem happened – the structural forces and power dynamics that created the problem. It dissects rather than illuminates.   (more…)

Civic Health and Public Journalism

The annual Pew State of the News Media report is like a yearly physical exam for journalism in America. This year the prognosis is mixed, at best. Newspapers are still raking in double-digit operating margins, but after years of consolidation they are over-leveraged with debt that is cutting into their profits. There are more hours of news on local TV, but much of it consists of rebroadcasts, meaning there is actually less original reporting. Tablets and mobile devices are driving significant new traffic to news sites, but monetizing that traffic is still difficult.

A Stress Test for Civic Health

Underneath all the numbers is a troubling narrative that has spanned the last few Pew reports and continues through this year’s study. Everyone agrees that we are in a tumultuous time for journalism in America, with both enormous opportunity and profound challenges — the numbers confirm that. But what is harder to quantify is the impact this unevenness and uncertainty is having on local communities. The authors of the Pew report provide some hints.

“The civic implications of the decline in newspapers are … becoming clearer,” the authors write. “[M]ore evidence emerged that newspapers (whether accessed in print or digitally) are the primary source people turn to for news about government and civic affairs. If these operations continue to shrivel or disappear, it is unclear where, or whether, that information would be reported.”

While a growing cadre of reporting projects and journalism sites is contributing in critical ways to expanding news in many communities, most still come nowhere near the size of traditional newsrooms, and many are struggling to transition from startup to sustainability. Some of those startups are being developed by committed journalists who have left newspapers. Pew estimates that 1,000 newsgathering jobs were lost in 2010, which is a small number compared to the years prior, but still significant. (more…)

What is the State of the Media in 2010?

A year ago, we were still building SaveTheNews.org, writing our first major report and holding early meetings with journalism leaders about the future of news and public policy. Our DC meeting included folks from the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism, who gave us a brief snapshot of their 2009 State of the Media report. It was an optimistic presentation, emphasizing the dramatic growth in news readership and the exciting new online news ventures developing all over the country.

This year’s State of the Media report, released yesterday, paints a much different picture. The brief summary is that newsroom cuts and dwindling budgets are still wracking the news industry, and new business models and nonprofit journalism projects are not developing fast enough to fill in the gaps. While the report does not address public policy directly, there are a number of important findings that highlight how bad policies have undermined journalism, and suggest ways new policies could help meet the information needs of communities.

Below is a summary of a few of the key points that I am still mulling over. (more…)

As Comcast Files Merger Paperwork, Future Bleak for Local News

Comcast just filed its merger paperwork with the FCC. As part of its takeover, Comcast wants to get its hands on local NBC and Telemundo stations owned and operated by NBC across the nation. More media consolidation in local news is never a good thing, but this deal is particularly bad for certain communities.

NBC owns local stations in eleven communities that are already have Comcast cable and Internet service. If this merger goes through, in each community one company will control content online, on cable and over the airwaves.

Here are the stations that are in Comcast’s crosshairs: (more…)

10 Journalism Resolutions for 2010

Co-authored by Josh Stearns and Tracy VanSlyke

If 2009 was a year of study and debate about the future of journalism, 2010 must be a year of action. We must come together around a core set of ideas to create a better ecosystem for sustainable and high-impact journalism. Based on the various reports and conferences from the past year, we’ve compiled the five most important areas that journalism organizations (and those invested in the future of journalism) must tackle in 2010—and suggest some initial steps to begin moving forward. (more…)

Eight (or Nine) Values for the Future of News

I just returned from the Future of News conference in St. Paul, Minn. Although the conference inspired Richard Gingras to cheekily tweet, “The future of news is a future of conferences about the future of news,” there were some interesting threads worth noting.

One presenter who stood out to me was Tom Rosenstiel, from the Pew Center for Excellence in Journalism, who proposed eight values he believed were core to the future of news. Some, he noted, were long-held values of legacy media organizations that we should carry over to new models. Others were values rooted in the changing media system and people’s responses to it. (more…)