Thursday, January 25, 2007

A manifesto for journalism

Today journalist Geneva Overholser visited our Knight Fellow forum to talk about the future of journalism. She has a long view of it, having served in many capacities including as former ombudsman and syndicated columnist for the Washington Post and editorial board member of The New York Times. She edited The Des Moines Register from 1988-1995, and lead the paper to its 1991 Pulitzer Prize Gold Medal for Public Service. She is now with the Curtis B. Hurley Chair in Public Affairs Reporting, Missouri School of Journalism, Washington Bureau.

What I liked the most about her talk was she said these words: "I'm optimistic."

Why? a room of journalists asked her. Given the current rocky state of affairs, what's to be optimistic about?

She had good reasons.

#1. Creativity -- lots of it -- is springing up all around the edges of the battlefield. She told the story of a tiny community in Maine that newspapers had forgotten. So the town librarian got some folks together and started a news website for that community. You can look here at for a collection of new ideas. Funding for grassroots news sites is out there. J-Lab has a February 20 deadline for initiative proposals. Get the scoop at New Voices.

#2. People -- the reading public -- care. She travels and talks to lots of folks, including people who claim to despise MSM (mainstream media.) She sees them as allies because they care enough to complain.

#3. She strongly believes in public interest journalism. To complaints that newspapers have to pander to lowest common demoninators and that no one cares about "eat your peas" journalism, she demurred, and said: We (journalists) can set the appetite and taste by what we deliver. Readers may not know they need a voting guide, until we give them such a good one they can't live without it.

She admits good journalism costs money, and the current delivery models are collapsing. But she is sure good journalism will carry on -- simply on a new platform.

Read her analysis at On Behalf of Journalism: a manifesto for change.

And get a good night's sleep. There's lots of work tomorrow.

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