College Media and the Future of Journalism

Today I gave a presentation at the National College Media Convention here in Austin, Texas. I had a great crowd, some challenging questions, and overall a good discussion. All in all, a short one hour conference session is a tough venue to have an in-depth discussion about an issue as complex as the future of journalism.

I’m embedding my presentation here in hopes of continuing the conversation in the comment section of this blog blog. The presentation is below (sorry the videos don’t work at this point, still tweaking those). Continue reading

In Defense of Journalism Policy

This was originally posted on Nov. 30th at

Today’s Washington Post op-ed by Robert W. McChesney and John Nichols recovers a past too many Americans have forgotten and sets the record straight on the government’s role in protecting journalism.

“We seek to renew a rich if largely forgotten legacy of the American free-press tradition, one that speaks directly to today’s crisis,” they write. “The First Amendment necessarily prohibits state censorship, but it does not prevent citizens from using their government to subsidize and spawn independent media.”

McChesney and Nichols, two of the co-founders of Free Press, are responding to a common misconception about government involvement in journalism is antithetical to freedom of the press. Policy has always shaped journalism, and for a long time it was policy that helped ensure freedom of the press. Continue reading

Journalism Co-Ops

What happens when the institutions we depend on – the ones supposedly “too big to fail” – begin to fail us? The unsustainable drive toward ever greater profits has undermined our society’s’ core institutions: health care, banks and now, journalism.

In response to this string of failures, it is no surprise to see small groups of people coming together locally to find ways of obtaining the information, health care and financial assistance they need in their communities.

One of these responses has been the formation of co-ops, or local cooperatives. Local cooperative banks and health care co-ops are now being held up as important social and economic models. Continue reading

Why Newspapers Need Pledge Drives

(Hint: it has nothing to do with money)

People like to complain about pledge drives on NPR and PBS, but I was recently talking with a journalist at a local public radio station who said “One of the problems facing newspapers is that they don’t have fund drives.”

She went on to explain that, while fund drives are an absolute financial necessity for NPR and PBS, the donations they receive are only part of the benefits. “Two or thee times a year we get to spend a couple hours a day telling our community how important they are to us, and reminding them how important we are to them,” she said. Continue reading

Eat, Read, Organize

For almost ten years my wife and I have held regular potlucks at our home. These dinner have been one of the most consistent parts of our life together. We have moved more than five times, changed jobs at least six times, got married, had a child, and through it all we have hosted these dinners. What began as a weekly gathering of some close friends and coworkers in Providence quickly spread until we had strangers showing up at our doorstep, and were meeting people at parties who would say “oh you’re the people who hold those potlucks…”. Continue reading

Columbia Study Reaffirms National Journalism Strategy

This is a post I wrote for – I’ll have more personal thoughts and reflections coming on this topic soon.

A hopeful future for journalism is within reach, but it’ll take an ambitious societal effort to seize the moment. That is the conclusion of a new report released today by Columbia University’s School of Journalism.

The Reconstruction of American Journalism by Leonard Downie, Jr., former executive editor of The Washington Post, and Michael Schudson, professor of journalism at Columbia, is the third major report to be released this year that advocates for a government role in securing the future of journalism. Continue reading

Make Your Pledge Count

It’s pledge time on my local NPR station. My station likes to use various “what if” scenarios to convince people to donate. “What if you took that money you spend on fancy coffee each day and donated it to public radio?” “What if you paid the same amount for public radio as you do for cable TV or Internet access?” Lately I have been thinking, “What if everyone who made a pledge to their local NPR also wrote a letter to their policymakers demanding better funding for public media in America?”

Did you know that in America we spend only about $1.35 per capita on our public media system? Ours is among the lowest-funded systems in the world. Compare this to Canada which spends over $22 a person, and England which spends a whopping $80 per person, per year.

So be sure to call your local NPR station and make a pledge – they need it, and they deserve it. However, if you want to do more than make a pledge, if you want to make a difference and try to fight for a better public media system in America, visit and sign up to get involved.

On Hope, Hopelessness, and Change

There have already been thousands of blog posts written about Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize, so I am coming a bit late to the game here. But as a late arrival I have the benefit of stepping back and trying to take more of a long view of what has been said, and what it might all mean. While most of the ink spilled about the award focused on Barack Obama’s worthiness to receive such an honor or on how this announcement might hurt or help him politically. While there were a few thoughtful critiques, both of these arguments tended to echo the hollow horse race media coverage we see around elections.

I am less interested in whether Obama deserves the award and more interested in the intentions of the Nobel committee in choosing him. Clearly the committee was interested in sending a message – and while some snidely interpreted that message as “Thanks for not being George W. Bush,” I think there was more to it. Continue reading

Zombie TV Stations: No One Is Home

Earlier this week, we reported on the growing citizen protest surrounding a media merger in Hawaii. The media companies at the heart of the merger are trying to sneak around the FCC by consolidating three television stations without transferring ownership. In the end, the stations’ letterhead may have different logos, but this deal would effectively merge all three newsroom operations into one.

But newsroom consolidation isn’t just a problem in Hawaii. In today’s Los Angeles Times, James Rainey describes a similar deal between KCOP-TV and KTTV-TV in California. “The merging of KCOP-TV and KTTV-TV has left the former not even a shell of its previous self, unless beefcake and dancing anchors count,” Rainey writes. “The losers: Angelenos who crave real, local reporting.” Continue reading

Asking the Right Questions: Valuing Journalism

When it comes to the future of journalism, I often hear us asking the wrong questions and then wondering why we can’t find any reasonable answers. For example, people ask: “Should government get involved in journalism?” The reality is that since the establishment of our democratic system of government, laws and policies have always shaped journalism and media. So we should not ask if government should be involved, but rather how government should be involved.

The owners and lobbyists for big consolidated media companies understand this, which is why they pour millions of dollars into lobbying Congress and the Federal Communications Commission each year to pass policies that benefit them. By asking the wrong question – if instead of how – we ignore the facts and remove ourselves from the political process. This leaves those with the greatest stake in the future of news – journalists themselves and the communities they cover – out of the policy debates reshaping media in America.

Similarly, conversations about the future of journalism spend far too much time focused on the question, “What’s the cost of journalism?” instead of the question, “What’s the value of journalism?” Continue reading

Why Journalists Should Fight For Net Neutrality – Part Two

I have been talking to a number of journalists about the future of journalism on the web and how that relates to policy issues currently being hashed out in Washington, DC, like the FCC’s development of a national broadband strategy and their push (along with Congress) to establish net neutrality as the law of the land. Journalists get why this stuff is important, but they are not always ready to jump into the fray and be advocates for these important policy issues.

Let me begin by quoting Kim Huphrey’s, the person behind the Denver journalism and media advocacy group In a blog post on she wrote, “journalists cannot be objective about our right to exist… if we believe so strongly in the principles of our profession, we must be willing to defend them when they come under assault, as they are today.” Continue reading

Why Journalists Should Fight For Net Neutrality – Part One

For a while now I have wanted to write a blog post on the intersection of net neutrality and the future of journalism. Today I saw a tweet that gave me the perfect jumping off point.

One of the best known chroniclers of the struggles in journalism, @themediaisdying, retweeted a post from the Poynter Institute’s @romenesko:

“NOT LOVING THIS: RT @romenesko: AP considers charging for early delivery of news stories to some online customers. reading

Policy Killed the Paperboy

On the front page of my local paper today there is a story about the end of an era. One of the most iconic images of America’s newspapers is the young kid peddling down the sidewalk, pitching papers onto people’s doorsteps. It remarkable how many journalists recount their humble beginnings as a paper carrier. Indeed, it’s such a cultural icon that one of the earliest Nintendo video games was based on the noble “paperboy.”

After more than a century of hiring local boys and girls to deliver the paper, the Hampshire Gazette along with a number of other regional papers, is discontinuing the practice and outsourcing to a national distribution company. The paper reports that Publishers Circulation Fulfillment, Inc., whose headquarters are in Maryland, only hires people 18 or older for their paper routes.

As newspapers are increasingly delivered to our “doorstep” via phone lines and cable connections, or wirelessly over the air, one might think this shift is just another disruption to the newspaper model brought about by technology. Others might argue it is the market at work. But both would be wrong. Continue reading