Thursday, January 25, 2007

Worrying about battle, the war was lost

We fret over whether we'll write for a newspaper or a website, assuming the Internet will be there as a stomping ground if/when we need it. But people are already out there fighting over who will control the net. Will it be government? If it is, will Internet service providers be "state actors," required to turn over material under a court order? Does the FIrst Amendment offer protection here? If we keep government's hand out, will big business carve it up and charge admission so that the Internet isn't free anymore?

A class at Stanford, "First Amendment in the Digital Age" is looking at these questions. A class assignment is to blog on The Cairns Project as students explore the issues. (The Cairns Project is about "building a network of collective action." The Cairn reference is inspiring: "Throughout history, travelers have collaborated in building Cairns: stone monuments to mark the path and collectively navigate new territory.Together we can do what no one of us can do alone." Already I feel less lonely.

Here's a first amendment post that argues against government intervention, with a response that argues for it.

Frontline on the News Wars

Maybe I'm just getting used to sitting on the edge of my seat. But when I stumbled on the promo for Frontline's four and a half hours of analysis on the state of journalism in America that will air over several days in February, I had to click through and check it out. You should too. So you've only got three minutes? Then go here and find the third purple panel that asks "What will be the future business model for the news industry? How will we get the news?" Click on Eric Schmidt's face -- he's the CEO for Google, and give a listen. Reporters won't write for newspapers anymore, he says, but they'll find an audience. Being that Google just aggregates news from newspapers, Schmidt wants newspapers to survive. Then click on Jeff Jarvis' face. He's a blogger for He argues that a 17-year-old walking down the street with a camera phone is a journalist. Any and everybody is, if they are witness to something the world wants to know. Where will you be working in two years? If you wonder, here's a potential flashlight into the darkness.

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.