Posted by: Nancy | March 18, 2009

Death watch for newspapers…

… Long live the new hyperlocal open-source news organization!

Hard to miss all the chatter about the pending demise of newspapers and the first to fall — Rocky Mountain News, then Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Next …?

It’s true that we are in the midst of a social transformation, driven by: the availability of information on the Internet at all times; the declining relevance of newsprint; Web 2.0 technology and new social media;  an embrace of open-source culture and mass collaboration, democracy in action, citizen journalism, the rise of blogging — add your drivers here.

These changes touch newspapers, but also are transforming public relations, marketing, branding, broadcast media (television, radio, cable), books and all publishing … maybe all relationships?

Yet most visibly, it’s the newspaper industry that’s struggling to maintain relevance.  It is time for reinvention — a news organization rather than a newsPAPER. I’m not the first with this, although I started thinking about and working on online, interactive, two-way, participatory journalism in the early 1990s. See the brilliant commentary by Tom Foremski’s Silicon Valley Watch “25 ideas: creating an open-source business model for newspapers.”

I think he’s 100 percent on target, and he hit some of my favorite hot buttons, too. News organizations have got to understand their communities, and that means being part of the community — not above it.  News organizations should be the valued, trusted source of information in their communities — deep in the neighborhoods, visible, authentic and real people, not some institution with blurry or dueling motivations.

It won’t be easy to drive change; critics are quick to bemoan the rise of “amateurs” and the lowering standards of reporting.  You won’t need proof beyond David Simon’s dead-on commentary — even news organizations and journalists aren’t as skilled / knowledgeable /aggressive as they should be.  But that doesn’t mean that a concerted transformational effort isn’t worth a shot. Let’s welcome disparate voices from all corners of the community and rather than bemoan the lower standards that “citizen journalism” implies, let’s teach the principles of the trade.

Maybe there are new ways to help “grow” the next generation of journalists … I’m thinking of organizations like the ACLU, grassroots activists, watchdogs, the schools. I love the example here from Jeff Jarvis — let the Journalism schools lead the change to drive collaboration as the valued skillset, instead of the institutional arrogance that I witnessed in J school.

Start with deep local news. Recruit the people who care about the topic, whatever it is.  Help train the next generation of newshounds — and recognize that they (we?) might well be pre-teens, retirees or the out-of-work population.

Count me in. Again.

Update:

Can’t help but add this insightful compilation on the topic, from PressThink by Jay Rosen at NYU. He’s helpfully pulled together a dozen of the best commentaries on the state of the newspaper industry: Rosen’s Flying Seminar In The Future of News

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