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.
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 NewsTrust.net, 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.