The Public Journal

the public journalHere is the latest essay for your consideration, The Public Journal.

As traditional media companies struggle to hang onto models that have served us well for a very long time, the forces of change are leading us down a path that’s not quite as foggy as it once was. I wrote about it a few months ago in “News is a Process, Not a Finished Product,” and I continue that theme in this essay with a look at how the “journal” in journalism is shifting from the private to the public. This new journal is the product of many voices, all coming together to serve the information moment. It is sometimes raw and sometimes unedited, but mostly it’s the collaborative work of amateurs and professionals alike.

This concept will challenge your assumptions about media in a way, I hope, that will produce a genuine willingness to explore what I view as a pretty clear path to tomorrow. It’s scary, but in an exciting sort of way. The only question is this: will we wait until somebody else figures it all out, or will we pave the way in our own communities and beat everybody else to the punch?

The Fu*k Jar

Romenesko offers up the discussion in several places about cursing in newsrooms, and I thought I’d drop in my two cents. It began with a Slate TV Club entry about the latest episode of Wired, HBO’s series about police in Baltimore. This year, the show features the newsroom of the city’s paper, which has gotten a lot of coverage by journalists over whether it fairly depicts actual newsrooms. In this episode, a reporter was taken to task for language in the newsroom, so Slate wondered if anybody had any actual experience with that.

Free speech and all, remember?

The Fuck JarWhen I ran the newsroom for WDEF-TV in Chattanooga in 1988, the cursing was so bad that I put a jar (later dubbed “The Fuck Jar”) on the assignment desk and required staffers to put a quarter in it every time they dropped the F-bomb. We used the funds collected for parties, and it was a source of great fun for all.

Somebody decorated the jar, and I still have it on my desk. It’s a wonderful reminder of the time and the people.

One day, my assignment editor arrived in an especially foul mood and announced she was putting $5 in the jar, so that we all should be prepared. I’ll never forget that. I just spoke with her recently (she’s now a news director), and she said she had calmed down considerably.

So, yes, cursing in the newsroom does sometimes get out of hand, but at least for us in Chattanooga, we got the point while having a little fun, too.

You know you’re not hip, when…

…you require a cellphone hotlink to the Urban Dictionary in order to survive social settings.

Live by cellphone, a glimpse of tomorrow

Jeff Jarvis has been doing a marvelous job of blogging the World Economic Forum in Davos for everybody, and I encourage you to head over to the Buzzmachine to get caught up. One entry in particular bears embedding here, because it’s a brief interview with Robert Scoble about his live “broadcasts” from the event via cellphone.

Scoble is at the cutting edge of the cutting edge, and those in the professional media world need to pay attention to him and especially the ease with which he makes things like this happen.

Imagine how the ability of “the audience” to interact with the interviewer could impact everything we do. Fascinating.

When Quo loses its Status

Here’s a great illustration of different thoughts at the executive level from a Techcrunch post by Michael Arrington of a panel at Davos. The references are NBCU CEO Jeff Zucker and Sony CEO Howard Stringer, and the subject is mobile. It’s priceless:

Zucker lamented the currently fragmented U.S. market, but seems optimistic that they’ll be able to move their merchandise effectively in the future (particularly short form video). He also said revenue splits need to change dramatically — today content creators are offered only 10% of revenue from sales, with the vast majority going to the carrier. Competition and openness will change this, he said.

Stringer was less optimistic, noting, for example, that Chinese customers don’t buy content, just blank CDs. “It won’t be easy to hang onto the price of content” he said, adding a quip: “When you defend the status quo when the quo has lost its status, you’re in trouble.”

Like intransigent mainstream media moguls who are trying desperately to make a Media 1.0 model exist in a Media 2.0 world, Zucker continues to harp about the value of his precious “content.” Stringer seems unnecessarily cynical, but at least he’s got a realistic view of things.

It reminds me of some great wisdom I recently read from the genius that is Ian C. Rogers of Yahoo:

Losers wish for scarcity
Winners leverage scale

The status quo wants to continue playing the scarcity game, and the strategy will lead to its ruin.

The currency of ego

Long ago, a mentor of mine taught me about “the currency of ego,” and I want to share some of that with you to make a point about a Nieman Reports essay by Will BunchForgetting Why Reporters Choose the Work They Do. The subtitle summarizes the article: “Will journalists ‘cover local news for life, with no chance of parole?’”

This is an outstanding essay and one that really strikes at the key local media matter of our time — coverage of “local” is really all that local media companies have left. Bunch writes that this is problematic with journalists who see local as a means to an end. He speaks of print journalists, but this also speaks dramatically to local television.

On an emotional level, I’m going on 49 years old, and I have a lot of friends around my age who have survived the surge in newsroom layoffs and are still working in an ink-stained newsroom somewhere. Not one of us wanted to be covering local news at our age (or, for that matter, at any age.) But we’ve been there, done that. To be brutally honest: For an ambitious journalist, the only way to get through a four-hour suburban school board meeting—even at age 22—is to keep repeating the mantra “this, too, shall pass.” In other words, treat this day’s assignment as just a boring but necessary pit stop on the road to Moscow or Beirut…

…I’d say that for the local journalism movement to succeed within the existing newsroom, there’s going to need to be a very different system of rewards to replace the dreams of Beltway punditry or a glamorous foreign beat. In fact, the rewards of the more pointed kind of journalism that blogging allows—the ability to develop a voice and a personality and to connect daily with readers—are considerable.

I tried to address this very thing in 2004 in a post that examined the assertion (by traditional media) that bloggers are in it for the money. I encourage you to read that post, because it speaks directly to what Bunch envisions. His vision has pretty profound ramifications for journalism altogether, all of which I view as good. I’m personally sickened by the farm system we’ve created, one in which budding reporters enter small market shops with one foot out the door. I’m heartened by the rise of personal media that is turning LOCAL citizens into reporters every day.

One of the ways bloggers get paid is through the currency of ego. It’s a form of status that’s recognized within, a feeling of being needed, of having a recognized place in the things of life — a voice, as Bunch calls it. Ego is an interesting part of the human condition, and it drives certain people forward more than even a paycheck.

I was taught about this from a very successful guy who was gifted at getting people to talk with him — to trust him and reveal things that they perhaps ought not to be revealing. He did this by always making the people he was interviewing feel like the most important people around. People left feeling great, although they never really learned much about my friend. He would turn every question about him around, so that the interviewee was talking about themselves. He taught me that there are many different currencies in life, and that ego was even stronger than money.

I had an employee once who was big on pay raises, because his father had taught him that this is how a company shows its appreciation for work done. That may indeed be true, but it limits life’s currencies to only one, but as my friend taught me, there are many more. At some point, they may cross, but the original currencies of journalism, I believe, have more to do with the chase for the story, recognition among peers and the public, the curiosity of how things work, the ability to influence others and make a difference, creative expression and a sense of worth that’s tied to one’s occupation. In a sense, the blogosphere is all this and more, and that’s why I agree so strongly with Bunch that the model for tomorrow is likely within that which is being evolved by bloggers.

As I’ve written many times, media is my life and has always been so. When I first got into the business in 1969, the newsroom was a place for people who found the trade one where a single person could make a different. My first news director was an old newspaper guy named Don Loose at WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee. When I became assignment editor and a member of his management team, he called me into his office and taught me the following:

Terry, people are motivated in this business by three things: ego, working conditions and money. If somebody asks you for a raise, first ask yourself these questions: Does this person know their value in the newsroom? Am I making him feel valuable and appreciated? If the answers to those is true, then ask yourself this: Does this person’s equipment all work — his recorder, his typewriter? How does he get along with the photographers? Is there enough light at his work station? If the answers to these questions are all positive, then think about giving him the raise.”

When I retired from news management in 1998, 95% percent of the newbies I interviewed had gone to “communications” school, because they “wanted to be on TV.” These are the people who write on the discussion boards, “I just got my first job and want to know what I need to do to get my second?”

I have no problem if that kind of crap goes away permanently, because that’s the kind of ego that’s destroying the industry and something we can all do without.

I’ve said before that tomorrow’s reporters are being trained today in the school of personal media, including the guy or gal who sees drama of the school board personalities, issues and, yes, even the meetings. Life is like that. It sees a void and fills it.

In this case, we created the void ourselves, and I’m excited to be alive as the correction is underway.

(Hat tip Romenesko)