The MSM Tunes In

by Paul Bass | August 9, 2007 8:34 AM | | Comments (1)

Chris%20Peck%202.jpgThis editor of a metropolitan daily — a charter member of the monolith known as the “MSM,” or “mainstream media” — was spotted conspiring with bloggers, independent “hyperlocal journalists,” professor types and other dreamers to bring their digital revolution into newsrooms like his.

His name is Chris Peck. He edits the Memphis (Tenn.) Commercial Appeal. He has served as president of the Associated Press Managing Editors and the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

In other words, his “MSM” credentials are beyond challenge.

Yet there he was the past few days at George Washington University in D.C. talking about citizen journalists, blogging, public ownership of newspapers at a conference called “Journalism That Matters.” The conference was co-convened by a group called Media Giraffe, an organization that tracks and promotes radical experiments that challenge the power and byways of the MSM. (Click here for a report on the conference’s first day.)

Not only that. Peck helped organize the conference, which ended Wednesday. He led some of its more barrier-challenging discussions.

Therein lies a story about the conference, about the state of the digital/ citizens’ journalism revolution.

As at past Media Giraffe-spawned events, the rooms were filled with pioneers trying out new ideas at the grassroots — people launching in other communities interactive local non-corporate online media projects similar to the two-year-old New Haven Independent. For examples of some projects represented, click here, here, here, and here.

And lots of new ideas were thrown around for how to change the way news is made.

But the bigger story was who else showed up. A scientific study (tallied and scribbled in the margins of a handout during one group discussion) showed that out of some 140 conference participants, at least 23, like Chris Peck, currently work for MSM outlets like the Washington Post (actually one of the pioneers of online journalism), The New York Times, Gannett, Tribune Co., Raleigh News & Observer.

Manny%20Diaz%202.jpg Pulitzer Prizewinner Manuel Garcia, the metro editor of the Miami Herald, was there, for instance. His boss has assigned him the task of bringing his newsroom into the digital age.

Jennifer%20Ward%202.jpgJennifer Ward shared experiences about working with citizen contributors as interactive media editor of the Fresno Bee.

Another 59 of the conference participants (give or take 10 or 20) work in academia. Many of those people formerly worked at metropolitan dailies and now train the journalists of tomorrow.

The reason that’s significant: Just two years ago, press magnate Rupert Murdoch warned his fellow MSMers that they were missing out on a revolution. He challenged them (in this speech) to evolve or watch their newsrooms die — to adapt what they do to the Internet and find ways to involve bloggers and everyday citizens in the process of reporting, commenting on and even deciding what’s news.

It took a while, and some resistance. But amid falling profits and the flight of ads and readers to the web, the MSM is clearly heeding Murdoch’s call. Most dailies aren’t merely slapping their stories onto web sites. They’re incorporating breaking news, blogging, in some cases mapping, adding video, encouraging citizen comments or photos or stories.

That doesn’t mean hyperlocal news sites and blogs and independent multi-media projects will vanish beneath a wave of corporate top-down innovation. It means that at all levels the news will evolve, with the lines blurring between old and new media.

At this conference, no us-versus-them vibe was evident. From the grassroots to the corporate newsroom, all participants seemed to be engaged in the same project. We all wrestle with the same questions now. Such as: How do you open the floodgates to public participation while maintaining standards of accuracy and decency? How do you pay for quality news-gathering?

Before the conference, Memphis’ Chris Peck distributed a proposal/ business plan he wrote for creating “The Next Newsroom.” He hopes to inspire journalists to find investors to launch a financially viable, high-quality local news organization that functions as a hybrid of citizen and professional reporters and gives the community itself control or some form of ownership. (Click here to read his plan.)

At the conference Peck solicited feedback from participants from all backgrounds. He led one discussion group exploring how to incorporate non-professional “citizen journalists” into daily newspapers. He led another on “how communities might own a newsroom.”

Peck said one motivation for MSM organizations to embrace citizen journalism is economic, and not always idealistic. Some editors might say, “If I can get someone to cover an event for $40, and they can do all right, I don’t have to send a $1,000-a-week journalist,” that can save needed money. Or citizen journalists can fill gaps in community news coverage created by draconian budget cuts.

Click here to watch him describe, between sections, how and why he believes the MSM is getting it.

dan%20gillmor%201.jpg At one of his panels Wednesday, Dan Gillmor, a former MSM journalist (San Jose Mercury News business writer) turned new-media guru and pioneer, spoke of the latest major media innovation announced just that day. The innovation came not from the MSM but from — surprise — Google. Google had just announced a new service for people who find themselves written about in news stories. Google will alert them when their names appear in print — and allow them to offer their versions of the stories (were they misquoted?) right alongside.

“The fact that this has not happened in traditional media is astonishing,” Gillmor said.

“It’s a space issue,” one editor responded. “What’s the difference with Google? No space restrictions.”

Gillmor wasn’t buying. He noted that MSM news outlets have had websites for years, with unlimited space.

Clearly, the quest to adapt to a new media world, where old-guard journalists no longer control the discussion, still has far to go.

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Posted by: Robert Frank Jr. | August 9, 2007 12:22 PM

To introduce myself, my name is Robert (AKA Rocco) Frank and I am a 2008 Candidate for State Rep. in Milford CT. I will be running against Jim Amann the CT Speaker of the house in 2008.

To comment on this article I would like to mention that the issue of mainstream media being in trouble has been going on for a while. Rupert Murdoc is expanding his media empire and things are likely to get more interesting. I believe that todays reporters are not given the liberty they deserve to report unbiased, in many cases they are told what to report and their views are often heavily edited to sensationalize a story that otherwise may not be so interesting.

Consequentially small CT Newspapers are suffering with circulation down, and ad revenues in decline. The same goes for many big networks that are facing increasing competitition and need to attract ratings on their new networks. I believe that we need to return to traditional journalism and begin informing people on what is changing and affecting their lives in good or bad ways. That is what the next generation of reporters deserve, freedom to report the news unbiased, and unsensationalized.

If I may speak on behalf of the people I know I will say that people are sick and tired of watching how other American's butcher each other, and maim their babies. It may get ratings based on shock factor but the overall effect results in a redundant approach to news that paints an unrealistic picture of the majority of people who are good. I certainly for one am sick and tired of the Media Maccabre.

As a case in point and to make a long story short, I will voice my disgust with the Media Networks giving Anna Nicole Smithmore news coverage than 911. This, to me, was a real turn off to the news media. I also resent Telegislators who watch T.V. and then Legislate. I do not believe the news should dictate state policy, one issue my opponent and I disagree on. If anyone has any questions you may contact my Blog board at

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