Saturday, November 21, 2009

Building a new model may require listening

After spending seven hours with brilliant, articulate people I feel bereft. I thought breaking journalists out of stank newsrooms where same-o, same-o pushes their creativity into square holes, or opening an avenue for laid off reporters to vent about what would have made the journalism world better, that we’d be humming with energy and ideas. Even if they were impossible.

What are we afraid of? What are we not seeing? What do we need to do differently, radically counter to culture, backstream, upstream, jump out of the stream that will rock this world and make rockstars out of investigative reporters, that will nurture citizen journalists to fill needed gaps, that will energize and create an engaged, vibrant community? Maybe listen.

Passionate people conceived of bringing together the journalism community to brainstorm, propose and walk away with a plan on how to create a new community-driven news project, a sustainable journalistic model.

Here’s my advice: listen, people. Listen.

When a member of the audience stood and asked the session leaders, "When I arrived I had a clear idea of what the break out sessions would cover. After hearing them speak I’m confused. Could you summarize in two sentences your topic?" The answer was, I don’t have anything to add to what I said.

Okay, say it like I’m simple. Except, you can’t?

These are the people we invest our subscription fees in to report the news, to take a world of information, break it down and serve it up in bite size doses that are thoughtful, interesting, and understandable. They work on deadline. I thought they’d be able to think on their feet. Maybe they can only type, not talk, maybe they should have been tweeting.

An outspoken participant took the organizers to task for not reaching into the community of color and marketing the event to them to draw them into the conversation. Whoa, baby. We all came with agendas, and that wasn’t mine, but at least it got people to think.

Okay, perhaps I’m being too hard. Let’s look at the break out session. I have photographs of  eight sheets of notes. The guy who spoke on behalf of our group, our facilitator, mentioned absolutely nothing that we spent an hour and half discussing. Even if everything said in the group was lame you could still put a nice spin on it, but it wasn’t lame.

We had representatives from Portland, Vancouver and Seattle media in our group, and not only from the news side but from the advertising side of the house, and not just from journalism but from the music industry. But nothing we captured was shared with the big group. Our group’s scribe jumped into the plenary session fray and tried to pull out information from one of our group members, but that got shut down by the overall facilitator who wanted to stay on time.

Yes, we started on time and we ended on time. We ended with 25% of the original participants.

Here is the bad news: journalism is not what it was. Newspapers television, and radio are not what they were. And the really bad news: the legacy media will never be what they were again. Ever. That means that we need to be different.

What are we going to do, to be the new media, the new journalism, the new future? And how are we going to get there if we're not paying attention?