Here are my bloggy thoughts for this weekend. Please feel welcomed to use the comments function below, or your own blog, to argue with me:
Not that many years ago, we in journalism schools taught students to be generalists in what they cover, and specialists in how they cover it. We trained reporters to cover multiple beats for a single medium, usually newspapers or TV.
Today, the highly competitive publishing market on the Internet demands that we flip our approach. We need journalists who have devoted the time to develop a specialist’s knowledge on their beat, while covering that beat using multiple media.
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In my commentary on the closure of Steve Outing’s grassroots media company, the Enthusiast Group, I cited two examples of individual journalists’ online start-ups that worked commercially: Talking Points Memo and DailyKos. The fact that both these sites cover U.S. government and politics is not spurious. Glenn Greenwald this week published a damning report that illustrates why so many readers are looking for an alternative to the political coverage they find in mainstream news publications.
And it’s not a desire for partisanship. It’s a desire to see someone, anyone, call B.S. on people who are demonstrably full of it. That same desire’s fueling the success of The Daily Show and the Colbert Report, too (IMHO, of course).
Makes me wonder if some newspaper publishers won’t decide to release the hounds, rather than continue to sit idly while their market share crumbles. If your reporting points you to take someone or something down… do it. And without diluting the piece with out-of-proportion qualifiers like the New York Times did with its attempted dress-down of the Rudy Giuliani campaign this morning.
Fairness and balance are appropriate goals for journalists. But being fair to sources and providing balance among them should not outweigh the need to be fair to the readers, and to the facts. And balance should not be reduced to giving various points of view equal time or space in a story. It ought to mean that truth gets treated like truth and lies get treated like lies.
If you’re going to lose audience anyway, why not take a stand for something on the way down? Maybe that’ll inspire some more readers to stick around, too. Or even to take a fresh look at their local paper again.
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History provides the context for our reporting. I just finished Edward J. Larson’s insightful history of the 1800 U.S. Presidential campaign, “A Magnificent Catastrophe.” I think that other reporters, and journalism students, would find Larson’s work valuable as they try to make sense of this year’s campaign.
One more thought, inspired by Larson: Many folks in our industry like to think that the Founding Fathers wanted to protect objective news reporting with the First Amendment. But Larson’s history illustrates the partisan newspapers of Jefferson’s time looked a lot more like today’s DailyKos than today’s Washington Post. So maybe a more aggressive, even partisan, press isn’t such a radical idea, after all.
(And before anyone accuses me of longing for more organizations like Fox News, let me be clear that I think people ought to let their discovery of the truth drive their partisanship — and not, as Fox News does, let their partisanship drive their discovery for the truth.)
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Last year, I asked Anthony Moor, then of the Orlando Sentinel and now with the Dallas Morning News, to write a piece for us urging j-students to take classes and get experience in online journalism. Yet every year, I get more calls and e-mails from hiring editors in dot-coms seeking online journalism students than we have students to refer them. Why is it that students will devote so many of their free hours to Facebook, MMORPGs, blogs, iTunes and YouTube, but cleave to “old media” print and broadcast production classes when it’s time to declare a specialty? How many more high-paying, big-city jobs do we have to offer to get more students to switch to our side? Are other online journalism educators seeing the same thing at their schools?
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I just bought my kids a laptop from One Laptop per Child (OLPC) for a Christmas present. These are the “$100 laptops” (actually $199) for Third World students about which you might have read. Through Dec. 31, OLPC is selling the laptops to people at U.S. and Canadian addresses under the following deal: You pay $399 for two laptops — one goes to you, and the other goes to OLPC for distribution in the Third World.
I’ve been looking for a good, inexpensive, reliable laptop for my kids to do homework and play with, and folks whose tech expertise I respect greatly have recommended the OLPC’s XO laptop. It’s based on the Linux OS and includes a Web browser, text, music, photo and video composition and editing applications — even an introduction to Python coding. The only problem I foresee with the machine is that my kids might not be able to pry it away from me.
Take a look. If you don’t know kid who could use one, I’ll bet you a local public school would.
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So… what’s on your mind this Friday?