In an effort to make decisions and activities transparent, Steven A. Smith, editor of The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, invites members of the public into morning news meetings, assigns five editors to be part of an online blog called “Ask the Editors” in which they explain news decisions, and welcomes the daily critique of five citizen bloggers as they share views about the newspaper’s efforts in an online feature called “News Is a Conversation.” As Smith writes, “In the transparent newsroom, citizens are partners in the news conversation, not just passive consumers of news and information.”
Patrick Dougherty, executive editor of the Anchorage (Alaska) Daily News, describes how his newspaper is trying to use the Internet to “talk with readers.” Notice, he writes, that “I use the word ‘with’ and not ‘to’ precisely because the choice of preposition lies at the heart of all that is changing for those of us at newspapers.” The paper’s first online attempt failed—and the Web site’s feature was shut down—when comments “profane, bitter, shallow, racist and relentless” forced out those who were more thoughtful and well-informed commentators. Dougherty writes about this experience.
In a speech Bill Kovach, chairman of the Committee of Concerned Journalists, delivered earlier this year to journalism students in Madrid, Spain, he focused on transitional issues that journalists are confronting in an era of rapid technological change. As he observed, “We begin by realizing that our old notion of journalist as gatekeeper is obsolete. The Internet has torn down the fences …. Instead of gatekeepers, journalists must become authenticators.” Transparency, he argued, will also be essential. “The premise is simple: Never deceive your audience. Tell them what you know and what you don’t know.”
Francis Pisani, a newspaper columnist and Weblogger for Le Monde, questions whether technology is poised to subsume some of the roles journalists have traditionally held. He speaks to the “emerging social phenomenon … [of] citizen journalism” and describes the ways in which computer programs, using algorithms, already determine the positioning of news stories on some popular Web sites. Journalists, he suggests, “should not overlook the fact that as technological tools are created, more and more parts of our usual tasks will be able to be taken over by software programs ….” Comments Pisani made during the May 2005 Nieman Reunion panel, “Thinking About Journalism,” address these issues, too, as do experiences shared by fellow panel member John Robinson, editor of the News & Record in Greensboro, North Carolina, whose newsroom exemplifies the use of blogs to promote greater citizen interaction with the newspaper’s staff. “In journalism circles it seems the most controversial thing we do is not edit the blogs,” Robinson said.
David D. Perlmutter, an associate professor at Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communications, and Misti McDaniel, a master’s degree candidate there, explore the ascendancy of blogging, evaluate blogs’ impact on journalism, and assess how new media likely will affect the old. “At some level, blogs seem a threat to almost everything in the news business,” they write. “But the point worth remembering is that the rise of new media should not make the old media panic or be dismissive or fearful.” Douglas Ahlers, who studied the intersection of online and offline news media as a spring 2005 fellow at the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics & Public Policy, and John Hessen, a communications consultant, share a range of data about news consumers’ habits and advertisers’ spending that touch on the prospects for print and broadcast media in the digital age. Traditional media organizations, they write, need to “understand and explore the complementary nature of online and offline media and take steps to attract the next generation of news consumers.”
David Carlson, Cox Foundation/Palm Beach Post Professor of New Media Journalism at the University of Florida and creator of The Online Timeline that threads through our collection of stories, contends that few newspapers effectively use their Web sites. They are not, he writes, “taking advantage of the emerging capabilities of the medium.” To do so, they must “stop thinking like newspapers.” Barbara A. Serrano, a Web news editor at the Los Angeles Times, describes how her newspaper’s Web site is being redesigned to highlight different content and draw in new readers. “There are plans to invest newsroom resources (i.e. staff) in the online operation,” she writes. “The goal is to have a Web editor working for each department in the newsroom.” In the wake of online experimentation on the Los Angeles Times editorial pages, Michael Gartner, who won the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing, reminds us that those editors “certainly won’t be the last” to debate, dissect, or disparage the editorial page. It is something, he writes, that’s happened “since Horace Greeley invented it [the editorial page] in the 1850’s.”
Susan E. Tifft, the Eugene C. Patterson Professor of the Practice of Journalism & Public Policy at Duke University, describes what her students know about journalism (not much), how she teaches them about it, and what “dream newspaper” they then want to create. “Each one envisioned a strong Web presence in addition to the print edition,” she writes.
Philip Meyer, Knight Professor of Journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, finds in bloggers’ treatment of their own errors an example of why, in the transition from old media to new, there is need for “a new kind of media organization to focus responsibility.” Russell Frank, who teaches journalism at Pennsylvania State University, examines how newspapers might handle the anecdotal “optional” news leads now offered by The Associated Press. “The dilemma is clear,” he writes. “Newspapers know they’re going to lose readers when they only tell them news they already know.”