Has the internet swallowed up newspaper readership? What is the future of news? What exactly is news? Local journalists tackled these questions and more on November 3, during the Twin Cities Media Alliance’s 2007 Annual Citizen Media Forum, ‘Life After Newspapers: Challenges and Opportunities for News Media and the Public.’
Keynote speaker Robert McChesney of Free Press joined two panels of media professionals in the all day event, which also included afternoon workshops. McChesney described the internet as a valuable tool in organizing the public within a media climate that increasingly demands restructuring. “We must make the media a legitimate issue in public debate,” says McChesney, “What media system comes out of this juncture, we’ll see.”
McChesney expressed concern that companies such as General Electric and AT&T have monopolized the media landscape. “Journalism is not magically going to get better,” said McChesney.
The first panel addressed the question of the future of newspapers.
“The newspaper was a wonderful thing, but the internet does things the newspaper cannot do,” says Eric Black, former Star Tribune writer who now blogs at ERICBLACKINK.COM and the Minnesota Monitor. Joel Kramer, former Star Tribune publisher whose MINNPOST.COM is set to launch this week, called the internet a “freeing experience,” but added that “when a new technology comes along and makes it possible for reporters to do truth telling in a new way, it doesn’t mean what we were doing before has lost its value.”
Panelists expressed concern that, unlike mainstream newspapers, the internet allows citizens to choose blogs and news sites that favor their pre-existing viewpoints on social and political issues, decreasing their ability to see the opposing side. “The internet is sending people into their own filtered eco-systems,” said Matt Thompson, deputy editor for interactive content at the Star Tribune. “[The internet] is an incredibly promiscuous medium.” Other panel members included Steve Perry, formerly of City Pages and now the creator of DAILYMOLE.COM; Brian Lambert, formerly at the Pioneer press and now at The Rake magazine; and moderator Rich Broderick, vice chair of the Twin Cities Media Alliance.
The second panel, which focused on citizen journalism, included Robert McChesney, Mary Turck, editor of the Twin Cities Daily Planet, Janis Lane-Ewart, executive director of KFAI community radio, Michael Caputo of MPR’s Public Insight Journalism project and Nora Paul, director of the Institute for New Media Studies at the University of Minnesota. Doug McGill, a former New York Times reporter and Bloomberg bureau chief who now teaches citizen journalism, moderated the panel.
“The responsibility [in the media] is shifting over to citizens,” said McGill. “Can citizens do a better job or are citizens doing a better job?” At the Twin Cities Daily Planet and KFAI, editors accept contributions from citizen journalists and strive to deliver news from diverse cultural perspectives that may not be present in mainstream newspapers.
Michael Caputo described journalism as a collaborative effort, aided by new media vehicles. “Citizens are journalists [and] journalists are citizens…ultimately, journalism is a conversation and the internet allows it to happen.”
Nora Paul worried that even with the plethora of media outlets, there is not enough energy being generated to create information that engages citizens at a high level. “Not everyone wants to contribute [to writing news], but every citizen has a responsibility to be informed.”
Echoing the earlier panel, the journalists voiced concerns about blogging, claiming that it couldn’t exist without trained reporters churning out well-researched stories. “You’ve got to have someone writing the melody before you try to harmonize,” says McChesney, “you have to have something to go off of…someone who’s done the digging.”
Panelists challenged citizens and journalists to look closely at issues of objectivity and credibility in all forms of media, especially concerning the internet. “Websites have a half-life,” says McChesney. One factual error, misinterpretation or criticism, and an article gets corrected or pulled off a website. Most websites have an average life span of only 16 months. Regardless of what becomes of the newspaper, with the internet, says McChesney, “you can reinvent history.”