Blue Sky On a Gray Day
The question was, Who are you and why are you here? Not just the facts, but the emotions - how do you feel about the assault on news right now?
Blue Sky On a Gray Day
Feel? I told a little story today. Every morning I walk to the end of the driveway, and pick up a newspaper or three. By the time I make it back inside my sons are already talking about something they read in the paper. They've gone online. And that's ok - hopeful, even. They're reading. They just don't read the actual paper.
We all had different stories - 40 or so of us who met on the top floor of Penn's Annenberg School to blue sky on a gray day and tried to fashion the local news organization of the 21st century. Many of us came from opposite sides of the street - newspaper people and bloggers, reporters and editors, mainstream and indie types, a polymath who never went to college and the dean of an Ivy League school.
We called it the Unconference, and there was no panel, no microphones, no agenda. We worked from a wiki whiteboard, which means a big screen showed the order of the day as we made it up from our seats. There were a few unrules, the best being: no commercials and no tomato throwing. What surprised me is that people stuck to them. I was expecting a raging hall of egos. Instead, we actually worked on this oddly named notion of the next thing in journalism, The Norg.
Will Bunch at the Daily News's Attytood blog named it. You could call it The Philadelphia Experiment. It's an attempt to pool talent and ignore rivalries and save this beast before it sinks into the tar pit. Or before Craigslist sticks its spear in our flank. What emerged from our nine to five session was a still-in-progress model for readers taking control of the enterprise, for tapping the expertise of the many, to deliver the goods with speed and style, and with transparency and accountability, and with a lot of other lofty words that we struggled to flesh out.
I wrote down these elements of a NORG: credible, interactive, on many platforms, widely distributed, devoted to media literacy, with voice and personality, enabling members of the community to inform each other, continuous, ethical, economically viable, with a watchdog function, community-owned, that empowers people to speak for themselves, First Amendment-protected, flexible, adaptive, transparent.
The elephant of the room is the iffy futures of The Inquirer and The Daily News. Knight Ridder has sold us to McClatchy, which doesn't want us. Bids to buy the dirty dozen are due Tuesday.
Jeff Jarvis, who writes Buzzmachine, was live blogging the event. Read his coverage here. He calls his post, "Saving Journalism and Killing the Press." In it he announces "this is the day the war ends. This isn't journalism against bloggers any more. It never was, really. This is journalists and bloggers together in favor of the news."
The group broke into clusters to dig deeper into some of the ideas, such as how does a Norg serve a democracy where not everyone is online, what are the financial models that could make a new collective work, how do we hook young readers who are used to free and edgy, what are the ethical responsibilities of citizen journalism. A summary is to be posted at Norgs.org.
There was a lot of talk about objectivity, and whether journalism fails to get to the story when it strives for balance.
"It's a phony debate," said Duncan "Atrios" Black, whose hard-hitting lefty blog, Eschaton, attracts about 120,000 page views a day. "And it's killing newspapers." Just be open about your biases, he said. People would rather a tough opinion than something so balanced it doesn't go anywhere. Bunch said every writer should post his or her bio.
Susie Madrak, a former newspaper editor who writes Suburban Guerrilla, recommended that papers use wire services to cover the routine and send reporters to mine corruption in the burbs. They should stop those giant megaturds (my word, sorry) conceived to win Pulitzers. "Maybe what you win is readership," she said. Jarvis said that if he ever returned to helm a paper, he'd implement flak-free days, where no news can come from a hand-out.
Toward the end someone asked if any of these fine ideas might work their way into the local newspapers or their online operations. That depends who winds up owning us, of course. A big chain with its own Internet sites would likely fit us into their existing system, the Philly.com guys said.
Inquirer editorial page honcho Chris Satullo told the group that committees have been turning out strategic plans in the hope that a new owner asks 'What do you guys think?" And many of the ideas that emerged from the Norg unconference, he said, "are much more interesting than what we've come up with."
Plans are to move ahead with a blog, a wiki page, more discussion, another non-virtual meeting, even. The stakes? Wendy Warren, a Daily News editor, put it this way:
"This is something that's pretty much life or death to everyone in this room."
(photo of Karl Martino by Albert Yee)