The press and the public: What’s the new relationship?

 MPR UBS forum MPR UBS forum
Minnesota Public Radio’s Public Insight Journalis (PIJ) project hosted a moderated discussion last Friday night in their UBS Forum. A group of about 20 citizens selected from their PIJ database were invited to discuss the topic: The Press and the Public: What’s the new relationship?

A group of about 10 attendees from the Journalism That Matters conference, New Pamphleteers/New Reporters: Convening Entrepreneurs Who Combine Journalism, Democracy, Place and Blogs, observed the discussion for 45 minutes and then joined in… me among them.

In the PIJ handout that was used to help focus the discussion, Locally Grown was cited as an example of Approach 4: the public is the press.

MPR UBS forum handout MPR UBS forum handout
Here’s the text (partial transcription) but click the photos of the doc to see it all:

There is no starker example of the divide between the press and the public than these statistics from a recent survey by Zogby International: Most Americans – 70 percent – say journalism is important to the quality of life in their communities, but almost as many (67 percent) say traditional journalism is out of touch with what they want from their news.

Established news organizations can’t help but notice as newspaper circulation numbers fall and broadcast outlets see fewer people tuning in. The notion of the public as passive consumer of news is passe. What is emerging is a new model of journalism built on partnership.

The question on the table is: What should it look like? Here are four broad approaches that can help get a conversation started.

  • Approach 1: the public as critic
    With this approach, the public engages in critiquing news reporting. This can include the creation of the Minnesota News Council – a group of journalists and citizens who rule on complaints with the press, or, a website where news stories are rated for quality by the public. It also means that established press organizations become more transparent. Methods include open comments on stories and providing the public with greater understanding of the news-gathering operation (through, for example, chats with reporters online to discuss stories).
  • Approach 2: the public as collaborator
    This approach calls for the public to participate in becoming sources for stories. Initiatives like MPR’s Public Insight Journalism reach out to the audience en masse for knowledge, which can then shape coverage.  Other initiatives ask the public to help with investigatory work. This method, called crowdsourcing, sometimes uses the public as a way to compile information on a subject or enlists them to comb through voluminous records (as the Fort Myers News-Press did on a sewer project).
  • Approach 3: the public as correspondent
    With this approach, news organizations turn over segments of their space to the public and let them produce content with little interference. It could happen on news pages or on the air, but most times occurs online.
  • Approach 4: the public is the press
    This approach avoids established news organizations entirely. The public starts a grassroots journalism effort to provide coverage of issues ignored by the press. It’s typically done online and while there are examples of national Web sites such as Talking Points Memo, most of them work on a local level.  A small scale example is “Locally Grown” – a website dedicated to the news of the Northfield, Minnesota area. This effort is also part of a larger initiative called Representative Journalism that seeks to marry local producers with funding to support them.

Since we and our colleagues are very close to launching the Representative Journalism project here in Northfield, these issues are now, um, more relevant than ever. So let’s discuss them.


  1. Griff Wigley said:

    Jeff Jarvis, according to the Wikipedia, is an associate professor at City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism, directing its new media program. I found his blog post from mid-April, The press becomes the press-sphere, to be helpful in thinking about the changing nature of the press and the public. These images help:



    L to R: the way it was; the new press-sphere; the me-sphere.


    The new news process


    Jarvis: “Stories and topics become molecules that attract atoms: reporters, editors, witnesses, archives, commenters, and so on, all adding different elements to a greater understanding. Who brings that together? It’s not always the reporter or editor anymore. It can just as easily be the reader(s) now.”

    Here are the two graphics shown last week at the JTM New Pamphleteers conference:

    The old news story


    An emerging news ecology

    Jessica Clark at the Center for Social Media integrates the Jarvis and JTM models (and an LA Times model) with this Visions of the new news blog post. She writes:

    The NewsTools2008 map demonstrates that, in the new ecology, community is crucial. It even introduces an unfamiliar term—the “community weaver.” His/her roles include inviting audiences to participate, and filtering reader comments. Meanwhile, in this world, it’s the community’s role to offer editors (now reframed as “sense makers”) tips on coverage, conversation with reporters (now lumped in with “beat bloggers”), content, and, of course, dollars. Are those communities publics? Well, it depends on the issues being addressed.

    Here at Locally Grown, we’re trying to make this vision — or at least a version of it — happen.

    June 9, 2008
  2. Josh Hinnenkamp said:

    Great comments Griff. Just an FYI – this past weekend, while Griff was at Journalism That Matters Conference (which sounds like a great conference) I attended the National Conference for Media Reform in Minneapolis. It was three days of great speakers and panels, talking and showcasing topics from: the future of the internet, media ownership, technology policy, copyright wars, free speech issues, media and elections, the recent FCC media conglomeration vote, net neutrality, and slew of other topics. Speakers included Bill Moyers, Dan Rather, MN Rep. Keith Ellison, Jeff Cohen, Amy Goodman, Robert McChesney, Phil Donahue, Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps of the FCC, Naomi Klein, and Arianna Huffington. Free Press, a national nonpartisan organization that has a mission of reforming the media through education, organizing, and advocacy, were the organizers and presenters of the event. While the conference was definitely populated by liberals and progressives, the content was valuable for anyone interested in these issues.

    In response to the original question that Griff posted, I would have to say that all 4 are the correct answer. I think it is in the best interest of the public to be actively involved as critics, collaborators, correspondents, and especially the actual press. These days are a time of media conglomerations where various media mediums are being gobbled up and bought by the giant corporations that hope to pitch their own agenda. It is up to all of us to do our best to prevent further conglomeration (the recent rejection by the U.S. Senate on the 3-2 FCC ruling that was PRO big media was a wonderful sign that the Senate actually listened to the people) but also to provide and become watchdogs for our own alternative media, be it national, state, or local. This does not mean that Locally Grown needs to tackle all four, but should continue doing their part with journalistic honesty, integrity, and transparency. Thanks Griff, Ross, and Tracy. My hope is to get The Key started (full disclosure – I am the Executive Director of the Key) on their own youth blog and other mediums that would incorporate many youth from this community. Stay tuned!

    June 9, 2008
  3. Griff Wigley said:

    Josh, I’d really like to see a local youth blog. Let me know if I can help in any way.

    Your comments make me wonder how well Northfield, with its active civic blogosphere (aggregated by is performing in those 4 Approaches.

    June 10, 2008
  4. Thanks for pointing me to this, Griff, it looks like a great event.

    Here in Ann Arbor, there’s an active set of civic blogs – the county clerk is a blogger, various city council people participate in discussions on the local not-an-online-newspaper called Arbor Update, and a graduate student stayed anonymous (and gender ambiguous, good for her!) for years before outing herself as the author of Ann Arbor Is Overrated which took snarky potshots at everyone (politicos, developers, and the local paper).

    We do have a functioning daily newspaper, though it’s smaller than it once was.

    The next town over (Ypsilanti) has been mostly abandoned for local news coverage by the newspaper that used to be the local paper; the Ann Arbor paper does a token job of noticing city stuff, but again the local blogger crowd is dense and thick with people noticing and doing things in town more or less in the open.

    There’s something about post-industrial college towns that probably lends itself to working well in this media world, even ex journalism students doing tech support to run an online not-a-newspaper in their spare time, and enough urban planning students to critique all of the development plans.

    June 15, 2008
  5. john george said:

    Griff- I just recieved this html from a good friend in Canada. It is a blog, not a news site, so you need to sift through the ideas from that perspective. It appears to me the that the freedom of expression of opinions and how it is done is something that is being perused worldwide.

    It is an interesting read, and I think it fits this thread.

    June 16, 2008
  6. Griff Wigley said:

    Today’s MPR’s Midday is airing the show I blogged about above on June 9. Title: The media and the public.

    Lots of Northfield-related references.

    July 11, 2008
  7. Griff Wigley said:

    From Bill Densmore:

    MPR also loaned Journalism That Matters a studio on Friday morning, June 6, so we could tape: “The Passion of Place.” That’s also a illuminating look at what motives local online news / community entrepreneurs — in the voices of 10 of our fellow New Pamphleteers participants. You can launch the audio from [here].

    July 12, 2008
  8. Holly Cairns said:

    I heard the recording yesterday. Interesting. I think there will be a new balance– less truth (mistaken ideas being spread around) but more truth (more indepth reporting, more first person accounting).

    Weird to turn on MPR and hear Griff. I thought, Is that Griff? What station is this…

    July 12, 2008
  9. Anne Bretts said:

    Journalism is a tough field right now, especially traditional journalism.
    I was at a fundraising house party this week in Minneapolis for, the news site started by the former Strib publisher Joel Kramer and run mostly by former Strib writers — most of whom are freelancing or donating their work. They have about $900,000 in grant money and private investor backing but are hoping to us the membership model used by MPR to develop longterm financial base. In fact, they hoped to partner with MPR, but the Klingon empire isn’t interested in sharing its $62 million in annual revenue or its 90,000 members.
    Kramer says there is no financial model that works right now for online journalism, and MinnPost is losing $50,000 a month, even with the best writers in the state and about 120,000 views a month. It was sad to see Kramer offering white wine and snacks while passing the hat in a roomful of upscale DFLers — a move I’m sure didn’t make a dent in the that $600,000 a year debt. He says they have several hundred members so far.
    Without a radio or print partner to give them exposure, and using a traditional journalism model, it seems MinnPost feels like a lot of aging Brett Favres trying to keep in the game by forming their own NFL team.
    If’s an exciting time if you can afford to do journalism for fun, but grim if you want to make a living.
    Journalism matters, it just doesn’t pay.

    July 12, 2008
  10. Holly Cairns said:

    That’s too bad about Joel Kramer, Anne.

    It seems the same advertising can be done online as can be done in print… I would have thought Joel Kramer could pull more in.

    “Journalism matters” must be a reference to the old? idea of journalistic standards.

    July 13, 2008
  11. Holly Cairns said:

    Griff, all of those diagrams seem to leave out one idea– the law of averages. It’s there, but not explicitly.

    That’s (maybe) one area where journalists have the one-up on the blog and the citizen journalist, assuming the traditional journalists make an effort to ask more than one person about an event and the report is an average of first-hand accounts.

    I guess it all depends on the format a citizen jounalist uses to tell information and the discussion that happens as a result of the story… or what?

    July 13, 2008
  12. Bruce Morlan said:

    I like Holly’s comment and agree, the wresting of journalism away from an elitist group has increased the amount of truth out there, but it has increased the amount of noise by a larger factor, so we are left with less available truth (I have the equation written in the margin). To the extent that we tend to congregate with like-minded people (see “The Big Sort”) we are poorer for it. LGN is very well served by its public, who are usually well known to each other in a way that (with Griff’s help) results in a level of civility. We do the same thing at Politics and a Pint ( by encouraging true diversity (which means we listen even when we want to talk). These cross-the-divide venues are the last great hope (IMNSHO) of our republic. Obama has shown incredible fortitude in standing up to his party’s version of the uncivil, self-reinforcing cliques. It remains to be seen whether that strategy can work.

    July 15, 2008
  13. Holly Cairns said:

    Thanks, Bruce.

    How do you know the noise isn’t truth? It’s just not organized for fast gleaming, perhaps. Assuming comments should be included in the average.

    July 16, 2008
  14. BruceWMorlan said:

    Well, that’s the rub. Unless you are qualified to judge (e.g., you are a scientist or specialist working in the field and are therefore qualifiedt), you are often reduced to finding a trusted intermediary. Bloggers develop following more on style than substance, and opinions fly like flakes in a blizzard (a highly appropriate metaphor). People who rely on bloggers should be very careful in their choices.

    In the old days you picked a newspaper you trusted (you trusted them because they tended to reinforce your own biases), then learned new biases from that editor’s team of reporters. The editor played the role of “staff” to your decision making by gleaning their version of the truth and presenting it. Good sources for me are like “The Week” which makes a deliberate effort to pick noise from both sides. This ability to see two or more sides of an issue is one good citizens should cultivate as if it were the last seedling in their larder. But in today’s sound-bite and blog-bytes world, it’s hard to practice that dualism openly because Google never forgets.

    July 16, 2008
  15. Holly Cairns said:

    We are all qualified to judge.

    Kids should be taught to investigate and check, rather than believe without question. The blog can be better than the current “fair and balanced” news if people look to find answers in a few places, rather than just one.

    The old idea is to look only where we find news that agrees with our previously conceived bias. Today’s youth already knows, I think, to look in many places (tv channels, newspapers, Internet, etc. We’ve got the world view ready at our fingertips, not just the US view. Etc.)

    July 16, 2008

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