Pressville stories miss the new journalism boat

Pressville-sshot For National Coming Out Day, two Carleton students taking Doug McGill’s fall journalism class recently published Northfield-related stories: Debbie Wong published “Coming Out Day” Raises Issues and Eyebrows in Northfield on the new Pressville blog and Maia Rodriguez published On National Coming Out Day, Northfield Reflects on Its "Gay-Friendliness" on Northfield.org. I found it troubling that neither of them mentioned or linked to our 2007 blog post, How gay-friendly is Northfield? with the 30 comments attached. (continued)

A Google search on the words "northfield mn gay" displays that blog post at the top.

Other Pressville stories exhibit the same problem. For example, there’s not a single hyperlink in the story by Leaf Elhai, Old Memorial Emerges as Skate Park Frontrunner — For Now. Why not link to some of the Northfield News stories on the issue? Why not link to some of the relevant items on the City of Northfield‘s site, some of the blog posts on the Union of Youth site, some of the blog posts by Councilor Betsey Buckheit, or some of the LG blog posts?

I understand the rationale for teaching a traditional approach to journalism. But this illustrates a problem with it, i.e., a reporter acting as if other media, other websites, and the local blogosphere don’t exist; that local citizens who’ve already publicly indicated an interest in the issue aren’t considered when researching or writing the story; that it’s not relevant to consider the existing ‘places’ where conversation is already happening; that engaging with people after a story is written is not important.

The student reporters who wrote about Northfield and National Coming Out Day could have engaged citizens on our blog thread as they began to work on their stories. People who have commented there might have become good sources for follow-up interviews.  Comparisons between 2007 and 2009 could have been made. Follow-up conversation reacting to their articles could have ensued, possibly leading to greater understanding and community examination of the issues.

As it is, the students’ stories have a very short shelf-life, have little chance of taking advantage of the viral nature of the internet, don’t prepare the students for how journalism is changing, and worst of all, run the risk of pissing off cranky local bloggers. 😉

Professor Doug McGill and I have discussed these issues recently so I’m now hoping to engage his students and interested citizens in the debate, too.

30 thoughts on “Pressville stories miss the new journalism boat”

  1. By “miss[ing] the new journalism boat,” Griff, do you mean, “failing to drive traffic to LocallyGrown”?

    I do think that your “How gay-friendly is Northfield?” thread generated some valuable comments from some new voices, but 37% of the comments were by someone named Griff Wigley. There are sometimes new voices on LocallyGrown, but many threads become a game of opinion pong between two or three regulars. I think Maia’s story on Northfield.org was valuable because she got off her computer and went out to talk to people in the wider community. I’m going to encourage her to keep doing that.

    There is also great value in a story like Leaf’s about the skate park that looks at an issue with fresh eyes, without recourse to the accumulation of sometimes rancorous opinion around that issue. Personally, I thought Leaf’s story was the best one I’ve read on the skate park issue so far. Concise and balanced.

    You say: “As it is, the students’ stories have a very short shelf-life, have little chance of taking advantage of the viral nature of the internet, [and] don’t prepare the students for how journalism is changing…” I have a feeling that a practicing online journalist like Professor McGill probably has this covered, and I wouldn’t worry about this generation of students being left behind when it comes to the possibilities of the internet.

    I also don’t exactly know what a “short-shelf life” means on the internet. A Google search of “gay-friendly Northfield” reveals first your post, and then Maia’s story. For ages, perhaps, people will be able to Google and find those two stories cohabiting on the internet.

    Finally, anyone who would like to start a conversation about a Northfield.org story is welcome to leave a comment.

  2. Boy, Griff, you rolled out of bed today in quite the pissy mood!

    You raised some very good points of course, as you always do, about the potential of online journalism to serve society better by embracing Internet technologies such as social networking, historical research, linking, and so on.

    And without a doubt your post suggests some terrific ideas that Pressville – all of one week old on the Internet – absolutely plans to adopt as we continue to grow, to evolve and improve.

    At the same time, Mr. Grumpy Head, I’m going to swing at your knuckleball of a post and say that in some ways it crystallizes, for me, some of the weaknesses of online journalism as it continues its exciting migration to the Internet.

    My biggest concern is that in the rush to innovate on the Internet a certain Utopian fervor gets whipped up sometimes. It’s like an impatient sense that Internet-powered journalism will solve all of society’s problems, if only journalists move fast enough to drop their attachments to conventional story structures; to start Twittering; to link every sentence; and to regard every story as part of an endless conversation with readers.

    Some important fundamentals about journalism and its role in society can be missed in that eagerness to embrace the latest technological craze.

    The headline to your post for example is “Pressville Stories Miss the New Journalism Boat.” Well, that may be true when it comes to the “missing links” in our first week of publication (although our stories will be link-rich from our second week on).

    But when it comes to journalism basic – accuracy, fairness, gathering and presenting the views of citizens — I’d strongly argue that the first ten stories published on Pressville didn’t miss the boat at all. Just the opposite, they met basic standards in these fundamental areas. Pressville is a public web site serving the people of Northfield and Rice County, so this was our first obligation, and we met it.

    As to specifics, you throw high and in at Pressville’s first batch of stories for not reaching out to people in the community enough.

    Whereas, I count 33 Northfield residents who were quoted by name in the ten stories published in our first week; and a great many more people of course were interviewed but not named in the stories.

    In Leaf Elhai’s story, which you singled out to criticize, five people are quoted by name; in Debbie Wong’s story, another one you highlighted, five are quoted.

    Will Pressville ultimately adopt many of the practical suggestions and attitude-adjustments about journalism that you urge? Especially, to reach out more and to develop an ever-richer dialogue between journalist and citizen by joining comment threads on sites like Locally Grown Northfield, by putting more links in stories, etc.?

    I hope so, and as I mentioned, we are planning so. But in the meantime, our first week’s worth of published stories offer solid journalistic value to the community, even without many Internet bells-and-whistles.

    Another point is that Pressville’s first week has actually stirred quite a bit of local response, especially for a web site that you imply is reluctant to connect with citizens.

    The two “hyperlocal” news websites (including your own!) have both published articles on Pressville and added our stories to their RSS feeds; the Carletonian newspaper has written about us, and the Northfield News has a story on Pressville in the works.

    Equally important, some of Pressville’s first stories drew reader comments, including one from a Northfield City Council member, and another from a former chairman of MPIRG at the University of Minnesota, who saw a Pressville piece about MPIRG and commented.

    That response I think shows that our first efforts to reach out to the community via the Internet have been widely noticed and, to some extent, responded to.

    For that matter, Griff, Pressville is itself an online news website. In a world where most people, including most young people, are drifting away not only from newspapers but from journalism itself, that’s counts for something. I think the Pressville project in its very nature shows an eagerness not only to experiment with, but to actually adopt, many of the new methods available to help journalists serve communities better.

    Pressville’s slideshow coverage of Northfield’s annual CROP Walk on Sept. 27 was another example of our experimental spirit when it comes to web journalism.

    My last beef with your knuckleball post, Griff, frankly, is one of tone.

    So much online journalism mixes first-person blogging with standard journalistic writing, and so becomes dominated by the writers’ personalities.

    When that happens, grand overstatements can be taken as the literal truth, important perspectives can be overlooked, and facts become dominated by mood.

    Jeez, Griff, speaking of the importance of context and perspective in journalism, where was it in your post? Your mood sure came through but it obscured certain facts and perspectives that are important to get the whole story (see examples above).

    Most of the students in my class took their first step at being a real journalist with the stories they published on Pressville last week, and in other stories written in class.

    They leaped outside their comfort zones. They talked to strangers. They listened to people, they got their names, they described their realities. They sweated the details.

    Mostly, they got it right.

    If even one of them thought they’d missed the boat in some crucial way, at least when it comes to creating basic journalistic value in a community, I’d feel terrible.

    Your friend,

    Doug

    P.S. Will you post this comment as a complete article with a scrolling headline on Locally Grown that says “Pressville Hits Journalistic Bullseye — New-Style or Old”? Otherwise your piece with its factually-sounding and definitive headline runs and people see that, and never read this response. Where would the fairness, and the journalistic progress, be in that?

  3. I’m a student in Doug McGill’s journalism class.

    I truly appreciate the fact that he is teaching us the foundation of journalism. We are learning reporting techniques, ethical considerations, and other practices that are the basis of journalism – whether online or not.

    I’m confident that no matter how journalism changes in the coming years (which it will), journalists will need to uphold similar standards of traditional journalism.

    I agree we have not completely utilized the resources available in an age of internet journalism. We are working on adding more links to our posts. That will come. I think we should actively look at local blogs and websites for relevant information when we are reporting stories.

    But you could devote entire academic terms to learning about journalism in an online age. There are many, many things this class to touch on, including SEO, wikis, crowdsourcing, twitter, etc. Such a course wouldn’t be particularly well suited for a class at a liberal arts school. Even journalism schools are struggling with this.

    I’m glad we are learning the basics of journalism, and we are only scratching the surface of what we could do on the internet.

    -Veasey Conway, Carleton 2012

  4. Rob/Doug,

    I honestly am delighted at having Pressville’s Northfield-oriented stories published. And I plan to link to them in the context of my blogging, just like I link to Northfield News stories and KYMN audio segments which likewise (mostly) “miss the new journalism boat.”

    Northfield NEEDS more reporting with “conventional story structures” that the local blogosphere doesn’t provide. I’ve long been a proponent of this need with my work to bring RepJ here as well as my effort to promote the work of the Carleton students. Last year, I presented to the class. I had several 1-to-1 meetings with students. I blogged every single video. I attended the year-end presentation. This year, I’ve blogged about Pressville and we’re aggregating Pressville’s RSS feed.

    So there’s no need to keep defending Pressville’s “solid journalistic value to the community.” I agree and I’ve demonstrated my belief with a lot of hours.

    I’m just criticizing ONE aspect of Pressville. My post was not meant to be an article, a review, a complete story with all the “context and perspective” that’s the hallmark of good journalism.

    That ‘lack’ is one of benefits that blogging has brought to the world of news and opinion, ie, short and narrowly-focused posts.

    I’ve got more to say but I’m off to breakfast with Bill Densmore who’ll likely have an opinion about all this!

  5. Two-year old blog posts and comments are not necessarily relevant to a contemporary news story, although the reporter should have read them.

  6. Veasey, thanks much for chiming in here. I’m glad that you endorse the idea of looking at “local blogs and websites for relevant information when we are reporting stories.”

    I think linking is fundamental, not a nice-to-do-if-you-have-time-for-it option.

    For example, let’s say you proposed to Doug McGill that you wanted to do a story about streets around Northfield that lack sidewalks. He says to go for it and you publish your story without links and without any research of local online sources.

    And then you find out that St. Olaf sophomore Sean Hayford O’Leary had just published a comprehensive blog post about the lack of sidewalks in Northfield a month ago.

    Would that matter to you?  Should it matter to Sean?

    If you printed out your story, handed it to Doug for grading, and then he shredded it, maybe not.  But if you published it on the web, I think it would be irresponsible.

    Here’s a great 4 minute YouTube video of NYU journalism professor and blogger Jay Rosen talking about the ethic of the link:

  7. Doug, you wrote:

    My biggest concern is that in the rush to innovate on the Internet a certain Utopian fervor gets whipped up sometimes. It’s like an impatient sense that Internet-powered journalism will solve all of society’s problems, if only journalists move fast enough to drop their attachments to conventional story structures; to start Twittering; to link every sentence; and to regard every story as part of an endless conversation with readers.

    That’s quite an overstatement of my position but I don’t understand how you square this with your later paragraph:

    Equally important, some of Pressville’s first stories drew reader comments, including one from a Northfield City Council member, and another from a former chairman of MPIRG at the University of Minnesota, who saw a Pressville piece about MPIRG and commented.

    Are comments significant or not?  Or are they only important if they’re attached to one’s own blog post, and then only in a score keeping sense?

    The two Pressville comments you mentioned:

    http://pressville.org/?p=161#comments

    http://pressville.org/?p=210#comments

    and another on Northfield.org

    http://northfield.org/bloggity/on-national-coming-out-day-northfield-reflects-its-gay-friendliness#comments

    thus far have no follow-up comments from you or the student authors.

    You’re flipping on a Web 2.0 tool (comments),  celebrating its use, and then directly or indirectly teaching your students to ignore the people who respond because it’s not a fundamental part of journalism, that such an endeavor is a blogger-like tendency where they treat “every story as part of an endless conversation with readers.”

    If you’re not going to make handling reader comments part of your course, then I think you should turn off the comment feature of the Pressville blog. You can’t have it both ways.  Plus, I think it’s disrespectful to not even acknowledge the substantive comments from a Northfield City Councilor and the person who had heavy involvement with MPIRG.

  8. Doug, you asked:

    Will you post this comment as a complete article with a scrolling headline on Locally Grown that says “Pressville Hits Journalistic Bullseye — New-Style or Old”? Otherwise your piece with its factually-sounding and definitive headline runs and people see that, and never read this response. Where would the fairness, and the journalistic progress, be in that?

    Huh?  Locally Grown is an opinionated blog.  A blog headline that reflects an opinion is no different than an opinion/commentary page where the column headlines often do likewise.

    For example, NY Times columnist Paul Krugman had a column last week titled: Misguided Monetary Mentalities.

    That’s a “factually-sounding and definitive headline,” too, isn’t it?

    I’d love to have you do a guest blog post here on LG and appear on our radio show/podcast discussing your experiences with Pressville and your criticism of me.

    Want to do that soon or towards the end of your course?

  9. Internet pioneer Dave Winer closed the hyperlocal community blog InBerkeley last week. He explains it with a post to his Scripting News blog: What I’ve learned about Hyperlocal.

    An interesting observation:

    Instead, what happened at InBerkeley.com is that the people thought we were running a news organization, and they did stories the way reporters do them. That can’t possibly work, imho — for the same reason the news industry is in crisis.

    FYI, I found out about this via a Jay Rosen tweet.

  10. The Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy report was released a couple weeks ago.

    In the section titled The Changing Face of Journalism they talk about the “new ecology of journalism”:

    Network technology may have hastened the decline in revenues to existing mass media institutions. But that same technology can lead to a new ecology of journalism in which reporters and their publics intermix in new ways.

    Some journalism organizations are already using network technologies to address cuts in coverage of local news. Among the most exciting aspects of the technology revolution is the opportunity it creates for emerging concepts like networked journalism and open source reporting.28 We have already seen the rise of “citizen journalists.” These are nonprofessionals who use commonly available text, audio and video tools to create their own news stories or contribute to others. There are likewise “citizen editors,” bloggers who collect news stories created by others that they believe are most interesting and relevant to a potential audience. A next stage is emerging with new forms of collaboration between full-time journalists and the general citizenry.

    Networked journalism allows news enterprises to reorganize so that full-time staff members act as nodes for networks of citizen participants who cover every “beat” conceivably relevant to the news organization’s audience. Through networked journalism, technology can enable a diffusion of the news-gathering functions, creating greater coverage of local affairs. Technology also permits new depth in local news. In “open source reporting,” reporters, editors and large groups of users all work on the same story.

  11. Ken, yes, I would agree, “Two-year old blog posts and comments are not necessarily relevant to a contemporary news story although the reporter should have read them.” A reporter needs to always consider the value of information coming from their various sources.

    So I’ll ask Debbie and Maia: if you had known about that 2007 blog post and comment thread, How gay-friendly is Northfield? would you have read it? Linked to it? Quoted from it? Tried to contact anyone from it?

    And if you now judge something to be of value in that post or attached discussion, what then?

    Your stories on Pressville and Northfield.org can both be edited/updated. Both have comments turned on and it’s perfectly legit to comment on your own blog posts like I’m doing here.

    You might want to do this but you might not have time since that darn Professor McGill keeps piling on the work. Well, now you face the same situation that most reporters face, ie, once their story is published, their editor assigns another one and they don’t have time for this ‘ecology of journalism’ and public interaction bullshit because they have a new deadline to get something new written or they don’t get paid.

    There has to be a better way!

  12. Griff – you say your find it “troubling” that these recent articles didn’t link to your 2007 blog post, How gay-friendly is Northfield.

    Why did you not write comments on the articles you found at northfield.org and pressville and link to the 2007 article yourself?

    That approach would provide value to the community and enrich the stories.

    Complaining about it here doesn’t provide a mechanism for the readers of those original articles to learn about your 2007 post.

  13. Nate, if Northfield.org and Pressville would allow trackbacks/pingbacks, then my blog post would have automatically become part of the comment thread on all the relevant (4) blog posts. (I did link to my own blog post. See the trackback.)

    That’s what the technology is partly used for, ie, to allow cross-blog conversations on the same topic to happen. 

    So by turning it off, you and Pressville are signaling to the blogosphere that you’re not interested in collaborative conversations, that you want all comments to be posted to your own blog.

    You may not be intentionally sending that signal, or you may have it turned off because of trackback spam (which used to be a problem but is now manageable) but that’s the net effect.

    So I tried.  And I went further. On Oct 11, a week before my critical blog post, I added a comment to the 2007 comment thread, linking to both Debbie’s and Maia’s stories.

  14. Griff-

    Thanks for raising an important point about my article. Perhaps my article would have been enriched by included the link to the 2007 blog post (available here: http://locallygrownnorthfield.org/post/1394/).
    There are many interesting comments and good questions raised on the blog post.

    However, the purpose of my article, and I believe part of the larger purpose of our class endeavor is to go BEYOND the blogosphere, and engage actual people in the real world. I believe a much more significant loss to journalism than not providing weblinks to every reference is to forget how to interact with one’s fellow citizens, to engage them in conversation, not online, but in person. And I think my- and Debbie and Leaf’s articles- did accomplish that.

    It’s easy to pose theoretical questions from the safety and isolation of your laptop, but it takes courage to go up and talk to someone you don’t know and see how they feel about a given subject! I’m proud of myself and all the other Pressville bloggers for doing exactly that…

    Furthermore, while blog posts are a valuable source of information, I think that relying too heavily on only internet discussions might run the risk of only allowing the “expert” voices to be heard. In our class, we talked about three overlapping publics: the informed public, who already knows a lot about and has many opinions about a given subject, the interested public, who may not know as much about the topic but still may have some awareness of it, and the uninterested public, who knows little about the topic. We established in our class and readings the importance of engaging all three of these overlapping publics, and I think that using only the voices of those who are already blogging about a certain topic confines the debate to the realm of the “interested” public only, which could mean that other slightly less vocal citizens are not getting heard.

    My article was in no way intended to be an overarching summary of every Northfielder’s views; instead, it was supposed to give a snapshot of Northfield- its political climate, and its citizens, going about their daily business.

  15. This is something I have not yet seen in Journalism.

    I have not yet seen one publication call out another publication for not linking to the first publication’s own articles. Maybe it’s because I’m new to this, or maybe it’s because I’m from a place that is much more respectful to it’s neighbors.

    Either way, I feel that comments or e-mails directly to the authors of the articles would have been much more fitting. To publicly call out students who have just begun to immerse themselves in this journalistic world is flat out rude and not at all professional.

    This article is an attack initiated out of annoyance to a lack of acknowledgment of your own article. Next time it’d be nice to see a little more encouragement.

    I do thank you, though for letting us know of your frustrations with the way Doug is conducting his class. The more feedback, the more successful he will be in giving us a more detailed understanding of this very, in my opinion, abrasive field.

    If you feel that I have not met the mark with my own articles feel free to contact me personally. Meeting for lunch, maybe. I’ll show you the respect I’ve been taught to give.

  16. Christopher and Maia, I’m really glad you chimed in here.

    I’m having a beer with Prof. McGill this afternoon, as soon as your class with him today is over. I plan to reply to you later tonight or early tomorrow.

    In the meantime, if you or anyone else from your class has comments or questions, feel free to post them here or blog them elsewhere with a trackback here.

    PS to Rob: Shit! I suppose this comment puts me back over 60%, doesn’t it? 😉

  17. Also want to quickly note that while my article did not link to the 2007 blog posting, I had no fewer than 7 links in my article to the websites for the various LGBT resources and organizations that my article mentioned.

  18. Maia wrote:

    Furthermore, while blog posts are a valuable source of information, I think that relying too heavily on only internet discussions might run the risk of only allowing the “expert” voices to be heard.

    Maia, I think you’re missing my point.  

    My 2007 blog post wasn’t an article by an expert. I simply asked a series of questions. I tried to start a conversation. The people who chimed in are real people who live here in Northfield. Some who responded are gay. None of them are experts.

    I wrote in my post above: “People who have commented there might have become good sources for follow-up interviews.” 

    My blog post wasn’t a review of all of Pressville. My criticism was aimed at Pressville’s overall lack of attention to ‘new journalism’ with 3 articles as examples.

    I told Doug last night that if I had to do it over again, my headline would instead read something like:

    Doug McGill misses the new journalism boat with Pressville

    so as to make it more clear that my criticism was aimed at him, not at the individual students.

  19. Christopher wrote:

    I have not yet seen one publication call out another publication for not linking to the first publication’s own articles. Maybe it’s because I’m new to this, or maybe it’s because I’m from a place that is much more respectful to it’s neighbors.

    Christopher,

    There’s a larger context here that you’re probably not aware of.

    Many people have been working on Northfield’s blogosphere and online community for the past 15 years, spending thousands of hours, mostly volunteer.  We probably have more blogs per capita than anywhere in the western hemisphere. While ‘hyperlocal’ and ‘citizen journalism’ are just getting going in many communities, we’ve got roots already.

    I’ve been pushing local reporters/media organizations to adopt a ‘network journalist’ approach to both tap into and help enrich the hyperlocal citizen media that’s happening here. It’s occuring in fits and starts all over the world… media organizations of all types and sizes are trying to figure out to do it.  Northfield’s two media outfits are polar opposites on this. KYMN Radio is under new local ownership and is busting its butt to embrace citizens as partner producers. The Northfield News? Not.

    I had this conversation with Doug a couple of times and urged him to adopt a ‘new journalism’ approach with his class. So when I saw Pressville launch with a complete disregard for the 15 years of citizen media growth that exists here, I got grumpy.  I felt the best way to criticize it was by being specific, explaining how these 3 articles missed the ‘new journalism’ boat and how they could have done it differently.

    Yes, I thought our 2007 conversation about gay friendly Northfield should have been tapped in some way, so that seems self-serving.  But that wasn’t an article. That was local citizens talking  with each other, some putting themselves out there on a tough issue.

    My other example pointed out how all sorts of other online sources in the community could have been tapped with simple links. I wrote:

    Other Pressville stories exhibit the same problem. For example, there’s not a single hyperlink in the story by Leaf Elhai, Old Memorial Emerges as Skate Park Frontrunner — For Now. Why not link to some of the Northfield News stories on the issue? Why not link to some of the relevant items on the City of Northfield’s site, some of the blog posts on the Union of Youth site, some of the blog posts by Councilor Betsey Buckheit, or some of the LG blog posts?

    That represents some of Northfield’s ecosystem of information and relationships that I think the student reporter needed to consider. (Or maybe better put: that I think Doug McGill should have asked the student reporter to consider.)

    Replicate that disregard several times over for all the other Northfield-related stories that had been published on Pressville by the time I published my blog post and I hope you’ll start to see why I thought that Pressville’s initial approach was a slap on the face of the large online community, albeit unintentional.

    After chatting with Doug for nearly two hours last night, I’m hopeful that there will be some changes in the next batch of stories that get published.

    1. Slap in the face, Griff? There’s no insult here.

      You are our Blog Evangelist here in Northfield, our Pro-Blogger, and First Among Bloggers and so, of course, you notice all that could be done to make blogs better – we thank you for that. However, most of us humble bloggers learn as we go, do it on the side, do it reluctantly (me, anyway) and in a hurry. Increasing facility with the medium — blog-writing, the technology and the other multi-media aspects of blogging– will lead to more linking and better blogging. Be patient, will ya?

  20. Perhaps not experts, Griff, but a self-selecting and perhaps unrepresentative group. As I told Maia, if last year’s school board election had been held exclusively on LoGroNo, I would have won by a landslide. I came in fifth in the real world.

  21. ‘Twas good to be invited to a Pressville party at Carleton yesterday and have a chance to talk F2F with students. Also there: Betsey Buckheit, Sean Hayford O’Leary, Rob Hardy, Suzi Rook.

  22. How amateurs produce valuable journalism

    At Le Post, a journalist is, at the same time, a news producer, an aggregator and a community organizer. Because of the way he approaches information, he is first a network journalist. He checks first what has been said and published in other media. He aggregates the best content from different sources, including blogs, Twitter, You Tube, etc. and traditional medias. Then, on some of them, he brings complementary information, new elements, adds value and fact checks. Even the news published by other journalists. The information is a permanent conversation that is built step by step by the community of am [amateurs] and the journalists.

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