Friday, February 2, 2007

Salmon, anyone?

Here at Stanford, I was invited to sit in on a one-day salmon-solving conference, called "Transcending Borders, Pacific Salmon and Interdisciplinary Approaches to Fisheries Conservation." It was hosted by the Bill Lane Center for the Study of the North American West. Seated at the table were government and academic scientists, NGO reps, First Nation leaders, authors and a few journalists.

(The only party missing at the table was a real-live salmon; I kept flashing on the dancing salmon in the Fly-By-Night extravaganza that graced that Anchorage nightclub stage for so many years....)

The aim was to problem-solve the decline of wild salmon by engaging all these folks in conversation. Conference organizers distributed a briefing book of articles ahead of time. Unlike most academic conferences, professors did not read their latest papers. Instead, three conversation sessions were organized around these topics:

**The Players: Laying claim to salmon
**How do we know what we know?
**Fish farms: what's at stake?

Conversations like these at Stanford are highly civilized, including wine, food, and time for commentary, a modern salon as it were.

OK, the point of this blog? During the day's discussions, an academic "called out" the journalists in the room, asking us to weigh in. I had been thinking of multimedia journalist Jane Stevens' description of a "shell" on a news Web site that might host ongoing discussions of a matter of high concern to stakeholders. So what if the Anchorage Daily News created a Web page attached to its news site that was all we, and experts we approached, could deliver on salmon. The passionate could "drill down" as far as they wanted into scientific papers and data and documents. It would include a forum for interested parties. It would be dynamic, not a snapshot version of an ongoing story.

Salmon as a topic makes sense for Alaska, it is iconic for us. We have the only healthy wild runs on the planet. Who else do you know brews beer and names it after salmon? (But, from what I learned today, the joy we take in our salmon may be short-lived; wild salmon will/are losing their habitat to escaped farmed salmon.)

A colleague got excited about the idea, suggesting that it could become the Romanesko site for salmon. Journalists all over the world could write stories off the info on the site.

This is an idea in its infancy. I like it because it makes newspapers and their Web sites into a "place" for people to gather and discuss, rather than the pretense at a "finished" version of an ongoing science story. It reminds me of what the BBC is doing with its Iraq War Web site. It also reminds me of what is doing. William Burroughs lived there; so they are creating a repository on their site of all kinds of Burrough's info. They are celebrating, and owning the information, about an icon in their territory. We could do the same with salmon.

A reporter for the Los Angeles Times was in on the conference, and together we discussed how newspapers don't like to write the same story twice, or how incremental science stories get played on Mondays when there isn't the usual load of news. They don't seem as valued because of their incremental nature. Maybe traditional news story formats are the wrong vehicle for this information to be relayed to readers. Maybe a newspaper-hosted Web page "shell" for ongoing developments is a better vehicle. A thought.


Patricia said...

this is a great suggestion. boy howdy

Nicole said...

Ahhhh, the Fly-By-Night, I can't believe it is no more. Hello from the land of the salmon----Nicole

James Sherrett said...

Hi Kathleen, I'm part of the team building a site dedicated to telling salmon stories and connecting them to people's lives called Think Salmon. It's funded by a diverse group of NGOs, government and corporations.

Think Salmon is not as academic as your suggestion, but we're striving to create a home for salmon stories online. If that includes a large demand for an academic component, then we invite that.