On creating a vibrant online eco-system for civic engagement in Northfield

emerging news ecology chartEarlier today I linked to and excerpted from an article in today’s Wall St. Journal (pointed out to me by Ross) titled: All I Wanted for Christmas Was a Newspaper; Bloggers are no replacement for real journalists.

Paul Mulshine, opinion columnist for the Newark Star-Ledger, misses the point when he argues that citizens aren’t likely to voluntarily ‘cover,’ for example, city council meetings for their blogs in the same way that a reporter does for a newspaper.

Yes, it’s valuable to have Suzi Rook at the Northfield News, Dusty Budd at KYMN, and RepJ’s Bonnie Obremski sitting through public meetings and then reporting on them.

But it’s more valuable for their stories to be published in an eco-system of civic engagement where the media, public officials and citizens are all involved in the effort to inform so that better public outcomes can occur.

Imagine a year from now that a version of the above chart (from last summer’s JTM New Pamphleteers conference) is happening here in Northfield. For example:

  • City Hall puts up the digital video of a council meeting, complete with ‘annotated markers’ that allows citizens to view just the segments of the meeting they’re interested in.
  • Two citizens post to their blogs about a Council agenda item that they viewed online.
  • Locally Grown links to those blog posts and starts an online discussion about the issue.
  • Two councilors and one City Hall staffer post to their own blogs about the issue and the pingbacks to Locally Grown add to the discussion. One of the councilors decides to open up comments on her blog and so now, there are two places for citizens to engage in online conversation about it.
  • The RepJ reporter does an in-depth story about the issue, interviewing others, linking to the blog posts and discussions, etc.  Councilor bloggers and citizen bloggers link to that story, and further discussion ensues.
  • When the City Administrator and staff prepare the Council packet (digital only; printed packets ceased in Feb. 2009) for the next City Council meeting, all of the elements of the issue’s ‘eco-system’ are summarized and linked for the Councilors.
  • Citizens and reporters have online access to the Councilor’s agenda packets.  Further discussion about the City Administrator’s summary occurs online prior to the next Council meeting
  • Some citizens show up at the Council meeting open mic to voice their opinions about the issue.  Their comments are streamed live online as well as included in the next online video of the Council meeting.
  • Repeat as necessary

This eco-system of civic engagement can’t easily exist in a town whose citizens don’t blog or discuss issues online, whose media reporters don’t link, whose public access cable TV station only broadcasts analog video at select times, and whose public officials aren’t regularly making an effort to be more transparent and engaged with citizens.

In Northfield, I think we’re getting closer to a civic engagement model that really works.

  • In place: Bonnie Obremski’s RepJ stories, an active civic blogosphere, and vibrant online discussions here on Locally Grown, some other blogs, and at times, on Northfield.org and Northfieldnews.com
  • On the horizon: a new crop of elected officials who are open to blogging and participating in online discussions
  • On the horizon: streamed, archived, and annotated digital video of City Council meetings
  • On the horizon: a KYMN radio station that offers more opportunities for citizen-produced shows and which selectively amplifies those participating in the local blogosphere and online discussions

(Not yet on the horizon: a Northfield News newspaper that selectively but consistently links to, excerpts from, and gives credit to local civic bloggers and online discussion participants in both the print and online versions of its stories.)

I don’t quite have the Vision Thing perfected yet but I’m getting closer.


  1. Jerry Friedman said:

    Bonnie: I’ll repeat what Anne said, that my remarks and the discussion generally have nothing to do with you personally. Further, I very much like the idea that you and Griff are promoting.

    From my first post on this subject, I opined that major media and citizen journalism each have their strengths and of course weaknesses. This dichotomy in the media is the same in so many other industries. Large corporations have resources that individuals cannot match; individuals have freedom that cause large corporations to retreat.

    Do you remember the story some years ago about Fox reporters in Florida who wanted to air a story about unhealthy levels of BGH (bovine growth hormone) in milk, but BGH-producer Monsanto was a major advertiser for Fox and got the story killed? Comparatively, if you broke a story about poison in milk, could any advertiser force Griff or you to kill your story? The freedoms of citizen journalism cannot be ignored.

    So please, don’t be like the Washington Post or either Times. I’d rather that you fill, develop and exploit the gaps left by major media. As Heinz (of Heinz ketchup) purportedly said, do something ordinary (journalism) in an extraordinary way.

    If anyone happens to criticize you personally, rest assured that everyone has critics. Everyone who tries to change or improve things has more critics. And those critics are often wrong. Work hard, every day, at being a stalwart professional, and your work will be appreciated.

    January 1, 2009
  2. Thanks Anne,

    Someone emailed me directly with a few similar concerns and below was my response, more or less:

    True, most writing benefits from having more resources available. However, one of the goals of the RepJ model is to create a low-cost, easily replicated way for communities to get some local news. Linda is a copy editor, but she also takes on the role of other kinds of editors. She points out information I need to gather and helps me see where the story could go.

    I think updating stories is a critical part of the process, making the story come alive and keeping interest high. When I put an initial story on the Web, I have made phone calls, performed interviews, attended meetings gone file-searching in City Hall.

    I’m taking journalism and bringing it to the powerful and growing blog movement–forces combined. Some people will hopefully see my product as valuable because it’s affordable, fun, participatory and also has a reporter and editor to act as gatherers and presenters of factual information. Just like any product, it’s not going to appeal to everyone’s taste.

    Anne, I suppose I am being defensive of our project and I hope not overly so. I think a lot of the points you and others are bringing up here are valid. We’re trying to do something very new and different, testing things out to see what works and what doesn’t.

    Maybe one day, RepJ Web sites can have a more newspaperly presence, listing the obits and weddings and everything else that’s in a paper. However, we have to start with coming up with a product that sets us apart from all other media. I, or any other reporter, could write articles in standard format and put them up on the Web. That’s just not our goal here.

    Thanks again for everyone’s input!

    January 1, 2009
  3. Jerry Friedman said:

    Bonnie: In my opinion, skip the standard news services of obits, etc. That’s for newspapers, not journalists. (Unless the obit is related to a larger story.)

    January 1, 2009
  4. Mona Obremski said:

    #42Kiffi – Here is a lens on parenting Bonnie.
    Bonnie: Mom I’m going to blaze my own trail into the jungle, onto the river, over to the glacier, swing into Spain, sail the caribbean and be a journalist when I get to Minnesota.
    Me: No. You can’t do that. No one we know has ever done that. Or something more colorful.

    That never worked.

    January 1, 2009
  5. Anne Bretts said:

    Bonnie, I guess I wasn’t clear. I don’t expect you to do obituaries. That isn’t what this site is about. I’m just really, really tired of talking about this like it’s some wild new adventure that no other reporters have done before. It’s just journalism with a different and interesting technology. The News is talking to people, living in the midst of the community, listening to readers and hearing their questions and they have circulation figures that show clearly when people are happy or bored or angry.
    Every media source has been begging ordinary people to participate in stories for years…and it’s working. There are tons of options out there for me to participate in stories or create my own.
    Locally Grown has decided what civic journalism should be in Northfield, but is there any measurement that indicates how many people really are interested in this or sold on this as the best way to serve the city? You’ll find out when you try for donations, so it’s definitely worth a shot.
    For me the different journalism options are the difference between ordering a meal at a restaurant, going to a potluck or buying a sack of groceries and watching the Food Channel to learn how to make my own dinner.
    I don’t always want to make my own dinner, or watch you make my dinner, or add my contributions to a dinner by committee that might or might not work out. Mostly I’d like to have a good meal served to my table — and for the most part I can go online and get that meal free any time of day or night. And when I don’t want to be around other people, I can get free room service, so to speak.
    As a reader I love this new system. So keep doing this, and good luck with it. You are building on a strong foundation. It will be interesting to see whether people will pay to take potluck or sit in the kitchen and help the chef.

    January 1, 2009
  6. Leonard Witt said:

    Hi Everyone Who Participated So Far:

    I am loving every word of this conversation. As the person who came up with the Rep J idea I should talk a little about my vision.

    In the best of Rep J worlds there would be 100 Rep Js. Rep J would be a full service hub, providing the editing, the insurance, and all the other resources of a newsroom of 100, which is a little larger than MPR’s newsroom is. That Rep J hub would build in the support systems that Jerry talks about in #48.

    One Rep J would be a Bonnie in Northfield, another might be covering endangered species in Florida, maybe another is covering manufacturing in the Midwest, others are pure investigative reporters.

    The pitch in my mind is you pay $2 a week for the Representative Journalist covering your issue — in this case Northfield — but you get 99 others for free.

    So when you click on Locally Grown, you get everything you have now, plus Rep J headlines feeds to interesting stories happening around the country and maybe around the world.

    On the community TV story, it would be easy for Bonnie to put out a feeler to other Rep J communities, which would answer some of the questions that Anne mentions in #50.

    And speaking of Anne and #50, the technology is here. It is not going away; neither are its disruptive powers. But technology tends to disrupt long sustained models because the new models are usually cheaper, faster, smaller and more convenient to use. There is nothing wrong with that.

    In fact, a Rep J hub would be much less expensive than traditional news operations, which are really manufacturing plants that just happen to put news on paper and drive it around in trucks. In the Rep J model, we would only be producing the journalism. Distribution would be digital.

    In the traditional model, advertising paid for abut 80 percent of the journalism costs. Those of us who love journalism were getting a free ride. That day is waning fast and will be over very soon. So if we want the high quality journalism, which we all are talking about here, we will have to pay for it.

    I use this ethical/philosophical question: If the journalism we do has no value (audiences won’t pay for it), then why do it?

    One more thing about my Rep J vision. I never saw it as us producing an electronic newspaper and throwing it on digital doorstep and then going away.

    I conceived of Information Communities, with the journalist providing the glue to help hold the community together. In this case the glue is Locally Grown and Bonnie. In my vision, it is a membership community. Everyone who is in the community has some ownership, financially as well as structurally as well adding to the pool of information.

    Dan Gillmor, author of We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People, has a mantra: My audience knows more than I do.

    No matter how much Bonnie digs, if she does it by herself, she can’t get as much information as she can by being part of an active information community.

    Her job though is to dig and dig and dig, providing that informational glue that the community won’t get without her.

    How she does that reporting, in part should not be a decision made by her or Rep J, but by the entire information community. Maybe one community just wants traditional reporting. Okay, that’s what they would get. Maybe another likes the idea of stories in progress, that’s what they get.

    However, one thing they don’t get is to infringe upon the reporter’s independence to report the news without fear or favor. It is a fine balance.

    I have written enough. My questions to all of you to think about, or to try to answer here, are: Does the idea of an information community have any appeal? Would enough people put up that $1 to $2 a week to have the first Rep J information community, with the plausible promise that if other communities saw it work here, they might well jump on board too and there would be 100 and everyone would have a membership ownership in it.

    When you think about it don’t think about it in the present, image a few more years from now, when there is no Star Tribune and no Chicago Tribune and
    maybe even a weakened Northfield News.

    And Bonnie is not here and maybe the triumvirate at Locally Grown, just can’t afford the time anymore.

    Do you want to wait until then or do you want to take action now?

    January 1, 2009
  7. kiffi summa said:

    Leonard: Congratulations and Thank You for ‘birthing’ the RepJ idea and picking NF as a site of exploration.

    I would personally pick up on the ‘pay for news’ idea at the $4-8 a month rate; the idea of that is acceptable to anyone who now pays for a newspaper subscription. But my satisfaction with that plan would very much depend on the quality of the reporting.
    Why? you might say; isn’t Kiffi the person who often complains about the NFNews, and their level of ‘reporting’?
    Yes, I am that person, and Yes, I do complain about the NFNews, and Yes, I do subscribe to that paper although I am almost always annoyed by their reporting, or what I consider to be lack of it.
    People ask: Why do you subscribe to that paper? it’s so bad… My answer is : that’s a way to see ALL the contents for less $$ than if I picked up a copy out of the news boxes on the street, or at the store. I certainly wouldn’t want to pay twice as much by buying it copy by copy vs the cost of the subscription.

    Let’s now look a bit at the ongoing (slow?) death of the newspaper as we have known it.
    Most businesses … and that’s what papers are criticized (unfairly?) for having become, find a need to change or die. Won’t this ‘Economic Downturn’ put the papers into an even more dire position with their reliance on advertising?

    Why would they not seek a new model for survival IF their motivation is to BE ‘the fourth estate’ ? How important is that classical and meaningful designation?

    What I am asking here is this: Is there a burning ambition to be a guiding light of the Fourth Estate, or has the newspaper business just become a failing business model?

    Are there enough people inside of the news business to both work for a change that is economically viable while remaining held to principled and professional standards … and people ‘outside’ to support that changing picture.

    I would contend that without that ‘dying gasp to survive’ by evolving the product (and now we’re back to your RepJ plan) newspapers as we have known them will for the most part expire.

    However, there is an image of what newspapers can do for a community that I do not see being fulfilled by a picture of each single citizen, in their home , looking at a electronic screen.
    I am thinking of the great photos of newsboys/ newsstands displaying papers with Mega-point headlines screaming “WAR!”.
    Here in NF, I am thinking of the chairs on the sidewalk in front of the coffeeshop; you might see a row of people reading the paper, others talking about the latest city hall scandal as the paper lies on their lap.
    Or even the bright red newspaper boxes, scattered all over town, and the people you see stopped on the sidewalk, peering in to see if the headline is intriguing enough to warrant the purchase.

    Obviously, my conclusion is that the physicality of the newspaper has something to do with its ‘power’.
    Has that illusion evaporated in a pixillated world?

    January 2, 2009
  8. David Ludescher said:

    Leonard: Randy’s criticism of RepJ is well-taken. How do you improve the quality of the “news” reported so it isn’t just a community conversation? It appears that your solution is to enter the capitalist model and charge. Then, you will be able to hire more reporters to do “real” journalism, and yet maintain the air of being “community”.

    An additional criticism of RepJ and Locally Grown as news sources is that they only appeal to a small percentage of the news audience. I don’t think that I would pay $1.00 or $2.00 a week for that information. I would sooner spend that money on the Northfield News which has a much broader, and in my opinion, more fair coverage.

    As an example, MPR holds itself out as public radio. Everyone needs to remember that it receives substantial subsidies from the government that put it at a competitive advantage against stations like KYMN who have no choice but to advertise to stay in business.

    January 2, 2009
  9. Randy Jennings said:

    Prof. Witt,

    There are lots of embedded assumptions in your vision of an information community that deserve examination, but on the central question of whether or not readers will pay to see the RepJ experiment sustained against the coming death of traditional media, I’d have to say “no.” That’s not because I think Bonnie isn’t working hard, isn’t smart or doesn’t have her heart in the right place. She’s doing fine within the limited definition of journalism you and she have described. I just won’t buy (literally or figuratively) the central premise that community knowledge will replace the current practice of journalism, and I don’t see the direct financial support of a journalist to be a business model that this or any other community will sustain. Just because Gillmore is right that the audience knows more than he does, that doesn’t mean the audience is capable of (or interested in) synthesizing and presenting that knowledge, nor that that audience will pay for the privilege of having a personal journalist to do it for them. (For those audiences with the means, the profession of public relations is alive and well. I’d be interested in your thoughts on how representative journalism and public relations differ….)

    There used to be an axiom in the business world that anything can be made better, faster and cheaper, but you can only choose two of the three at any time. That’s changed in the manufacturing of, say, consumer electronics, where we routinely get better quality, faster processors and lower prices. But in an endeavor that can’t be commoditized, that requires detailed investigation and documentation, rigorous analysis, thoughtful interpretation and skillful writing (which I suggest are the hallmarks of good journalism), I’d argue we still have to choose. Choosing a “cheaper” form of journalism just isn’t something I want to spend money on. And frankly, I am really uninterested in reading 99 other versions of Northfield’s problems. To (badly) paraphrase Tolstoy: every happy community (if there are any, other than Celebration, Florida) is the same, but every unhappy community has its own misery. It’s enough to follow our own foibles.

    So far, to me the “new” media seems to be more about speed than quality. In truth, there are very, very few local stories that need immediate reporting, so being faster but incomplete isn’t an advance. If you and your RepJ braintrust can figure out a way to provide consistently better information and a viable business model to sustain it, it would be great. I applaud this experiment, but it hasn’t yet been compelling enough to claim the money spent on subscriptions to other periodicals and broadcast media.

    January 2, 2009
  10. Anne Bretts said:

    OK, so you would need 500 people to cough $1 a week to pay even a minimum starting salary and probably no benefits.
    Who hires the reporter? How on earth do you get 500 people to agree on what stories to write and when? Say 300 want more soccer game coverage and 100 want stories on education and 40 want stories on faith issues. What if the readers want an investigation into the NDDC or the best value in blogging consultants or the charter commission?
    And if you add in the costs of surveying subscribers, editing and maintaining the website, and interacting with subscribers, now you have one part-time reporter doing maybe one or two stories a week for $52 a year when I can get dozens of stories plus sports and all the other stuff for $57 a year — and free if I just read online.
    I’d like to hear more about the logistics of this. You say the reporters will do environmental news, but environmental groups and publications are doing that. Every profession has quality publications and sites covering related news. Churches have their own news coverage. Can you give me some examples of stories that would be compelling enough to get 500 very diverse people to buy into it?
    It would seem that this idea might be more viable as a grant that allowed you to work with the newspaper to speed up its evolution to online and add more community components.

    January 2, 2009
  11. kiffi summa said:

    David L: I won’t argue your use of the term “fair” with reference to the coverage provided by the NFNews; that is obviously opinion based for both of us.
    But when you say the NFNews coverage is “broader”, I could only agree on the general basis of topics/sections, but certainly not on the comprehensiveness of what might be termed local ‘hard news’.

    For instance : Before the 12.15 council meeting there was a little reception for the councilors who are ending their term.
    There was also another kind of ‘reception’ as an elected official, a councilperson, was served with ‘papers’, and presumably there at city hall because as in previous instances of this councilperson being served at city hall, the process server was not able to ever find the subject at his recorded, sworn to place of residence despite numerous tries … and the NFNews has never reported this although the same elected official has been in the paper before as the subject of reports on thousands of $$ of non-payment of rent , as well as questions of actual residency.

    So, with that one example of omission of what most NEWSpapers would consider very ‘hard’ news, how can you say that the NFnews has comprehensive coverage?

    January 2, 2009
  12. Leonard Witt said:

    Hi Randy:

    In #58 you write:

    I’d be interested in your thoughts on how representative journalism and public relations differ….)

    That’s fairly simple. If you hired a PR person, he or she would write about what’s good about Northfield – even when things might not be so good. A Rep J is a journalist and writes about the good, the bad and the ugly. Warts and all, but in a way that is fair, transparent and reflexes the complexity of issues at hand.

    From the Rep J hub, we would make that clear upfront. We are not a PR firm, if you want PR, go hire a public relations specialist. We will also say upfront that at some point in the journalism process, we will write things that get you angry and about which you will disagree. However, unlike the past, your voice will be heard as loudly as the journalist’s.

    You also write:

    Choosing a “cheaper” form of journalism just isn’t something I want to spend money on.

    I don’t want a cheaper form of journalism. Indeed I have often said I want to smarten up journalism rather than dumb it down. The cheaper I was talking about is the cheaper form of distribution of news; delivery systems which are fast, cheaper, smaller and easier to use. You have probably heard the A.J. Liebling pronouncement that: “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.” Now we all have that freedom, that’s the cheaper I am talking about; the cheaper that liberates us, if we want to be liberated from news being delivered from on high with the likes of you and me having little or no say over it.

    Furthermore by saving money on all the trappings that are killing newspapers and big broadcast operations, we can concentrate all income into producing journalism. Hence better journalism.

    You also write:

    If you and your RepJ braintrust can figure out a way to provide consistently better information and a viable business model to sustain it, it would be great.

    Careful what you say about the Rep J brain trust because now that you have joined the conversation you are a vital part of the brain trust. I am not smart enough to do this myself. Neither, I would guess, are you and any one of us here. However, collectively we can create a better form of journalism.

    So when you write:
    I don’t see the direct financial support of a journalist to be a business model that this or any other community will sustain.

    You might be right. Most start-up ideas fail, but some stick and grow. If it is not this financial model, then what will it be?

    If there is no financial model, I contend there will be no watchdog journalism, no journalism to help you better understand life in Northfield, life in the USA and life in the world. Plus the journalism I worship helps me better understand the human condition, how we can make ourselves become better human beings.

    So now, Randy, as a de facto part of the brain trust, got any ideas for a better financial model?

    January 2, 2009
  13. Anne Bretts said:

    Are we really part of the brain trust? What real say do any of us have? Griff didn’t consult us before he got this grant. We didn’t have a slate of reporters and vote on who got the job. We aren’t deciding which stories get done. We don’t evaluate the stories to determine what worked and what didn’t and whether a follow-up is needed. We don’t even know who ‘we’ are, beyond the names of the handful of people who comment.
    There is no community advisory board. There is no business plan for subscribers/investors to review. Will you really do a story that upsets the triumvirate? How will you get David L. and Carol Overland and Victor Summa and me to agree that a story was fair, or even what stories to do?
    Right now, we are making comments, which we can do at any news site.
    I’m not being critical, I’m just fascinated to hear how this really is going to work. Please, fill us in. Give us a measurement of how many stories have been done, how they have differed from (and have been better than) what is available elsewhere and tell me what’s ahead for rest of the year. I’ve got about $50 in my coin jar on the counter, so make me want to cash it in and fork it over.

    January 2, 2009
  14. David Ludescher said:

    Leonard: If you are looking for a successful financial model, have you considered partnering with KYMN Radio, and the Northfield News?

    Rather than competing with these organizations, the RepJ journalist could put together all of the information, and sell it to the newspaper or the radio to help pay her salary.

    If you want to give people the truth without them having to pay for it, you could always start a church. I have to warn you that even churches are having a hard time sustaining themselves with free information on the human condition, and how to become better human beings. Some of their journalists even gave up their lives so that we could have the information for nothing.

    January 2, 2009
  15. Leonard Witt said:

    Anne says in #63:

    There is no community advisory board. There is no business plan for subscribers/investors to review. Will you really do a story that upsets the triumvirate? How will you get David L. and Carol Overland and Victor Summa and me to agree that a story was fair, or even what stories to do?

    Griff and the triumvirate will have to answer some of these questions. Rep J and Locally Grown are separate entities.

    I have always said it is unlikely that people will pay for just journalism, but they might pay to be part of an information community, and after watching Bonnie at work, I would amend that to an information community that is solution oriented.

    What if using the NTV story, as an example, enough people get involved in the deliberative process and actually muster a plan to reinvent the way that cable money is used so that NTV or a form of it really did produce content delivered on a platform that made the best sense to the citizens of Northfield.

    What if that happened with stories about the schools, healthcare, college and town relationships. You name it. Solution oriented journalism produced via citizen driven deliberations. And what if that process were owned by the community in the way a food cooperative might be or in a way that the good folks in Green Bay own the Green Bay Packers?

    January 2, 2009
  16. Griff Wigley said:

    This discussion thread has become RepJ-focused of late and I think that’s fine since RepJ is one of the components of the ‘vision’ that I blogged about initially.

    (I wrote this while Len was composing his comment above and I’m too tired to edit it to make it ‘flow’ in response to him… more later!)

    But I’d like to bring us back to what I was getting at with my blog post title ‘On creating a vibrant online eco-system for civic engagement in Northfield.’

    Maybe another way to describe this eco-system:

    Citizens, civic leaders, and media entities all engaged in using the latest and best tools for content creation, conversation, and civic capacity-building for the public good.

    The phrase ‘civic engagement’ has a negative and/or narrow connotation for some, so I’m substituting the phrase ‘civic capacity-building’ in the human/social capital sense.

    I’m interested in the architecture of this civic capacity-building eco-system because architecture both constrains and unleashes so it’s important to try to get it right.

    Viewed in this context, content/information — whether provided by citizens, leaders or journalists — is better seen as a means.

    Better information, more information, faster information, and more conveniently-served-up-on-whatever-platform information does not necessarily make for improved civic capacity.

    Without an architecture that continually encourages many types of participation from an ever-growing percentage of citizens (‘ordinary people creating random acts of journalism’ as someone said at last summer’s U of MN conference), I don’t think we’ll be much better off.

    So with one eye on civic capacity-building as the end, I’m interested in how journalism as practiced by a RepJ reporter can be one of many means to that end.

    I keep harping on the need for more transparency and collaboration in the creation of a news story. Why? Because they would seem to be two ways that a reporter can still practice their craft while at the same time, encourage civic capacity-building.

    The more that citizens see a reporter genuinely interested in learning as much as possible about a story and that they can play a role in helping that happen, that helps build civic capacity.

    As an example, Bonnie’s story on NTV could result in the Council taking steps to address the issue. A new community media task force could be formed and some citizens who’ve been engaged in helping Bonnie to write that story might step forward to volunteer to serve on that task force, to contribute ideas to the task force, to speak to their councilors about it, to write letters to the editor or blog about it. And maybe one of those citizens will have such a good experience with that level of engagement that they’ll seek appointment on another board or commission or even decide to run for office some day. That’s just one civic capacity-building scenario I could imagine.

    But I could be wrong.

    January 2, 2009
  17. Griff Wigley said:

    Len, I think some solution-orientation to journalism or to an online community/civic blogosphere is fine.

    But many of our civic issues require the involvement of our elected representatives who have to seek out the viewpoints of the broader citizenry, not just the “citizen driven-deliberations” of those online.

    And that’s why I think a mission that emphasizes civic-capacity building is better.

    January 2, 2009
  18. kiffi summa said:

    Griff : I carefully read your comment (10:37, Jan 2) but I think your conclusion that people who comment on line on a story , or just read about an issue online, will translate into ‘worker bees’ is hopeful but not indicated in reality.
    For instance : look at your site numbers of readers vs commenters… there are always a LOT more people reading than commenting. This is parallel to the number of people who talk ABOUT what the City Council (for instance) should do, versus those who talk TO the City Council about what they should do.
    I think it is hopeful that reading about NTV, will make more people engage in the issue, but I don’t see how you can predict more people becoming actively involved in that issue.

    Another example: There was a lot of interest in the local election this fall, but there was very little … I would say almost non-existant … attendance at the forums where candidates spoke, and took questions from the audience. So, very passive or non-involved participation.
    That’s not a perfect parallel, but it seems to me people generally participate in the way they choose to, and usually don’t change their style of passive or active participation.

    Don’t most people seek out and become involved in the issues they care about, those that are relevant to their life in some way? Isn’t that what activates someone into a participatory mode of behavior?

    Absolutely nothing wrong with being hopeful, but human nature seems pretty stuck in its ways, unless ‘forced’ to change.

    January 3, 2009
  19. Randy Jennings said:

    Prof. Witt,

    Back to #62. Brainyquote.com also quotes Liebling saying, “I can write better than anyone who can write faster, and I can write faster than anyone who can write better.” He is silent on cheaper, but he didn’t work for free…

    I can’t in good conscious be part of your braintrust since I don’t accept the premise that all voices should be empowered. The dangerous flip side to Leibling quote about freedom of the press is that when everyone can publish their every thought at the click of a mouse, we cease to have common references with or against which to calibrate our collective understanding. We self-select into ever smaller communities of narrow interests, with diminishing abilities to empathize, compromise, or even take interest in others outside the group that shares our interest. My apologies if that seems unduly cynical.

    I don’t want people like me serving as “journalists.” I want journalists to be smarter and better informed than I am (believe me, it’s not that high a bar — just ask my kids). I find the conventions of traditional journalism very useful: there’s news on the news pages and opinion on the opinion pages. I can validate the former against the empirical reality of my own knowledge and experience, and I can discount the latter against the same standards. Sure, the news is influenced by special interests with money; if a hard working reporter retains her integrity, her publisher might not be so pure. But the new media world in which every opinion finds an outlet is also easily influenced by special (if only quirky individual) interests.

    I can think of only four revenue streams that can be combined to form a business model for your RepJ project:

    Subscription fees (and the sale of subscriber data)
    Contributions (or the ability to absorb losses, in the case of many for-profit traditional media outlets)
    Auxiliary enterprises (events, tchotchkes, syndication of content and other licensing, etc.)

    In terms of nonprofit media, The Progressive and The Nation use all of these tools in both print and online editions (well, the online content is largely “free,” meaning paid for elsewhere, including in ads on the sites), and both do sustained investigative work.

    In proposing “solution-oriented journalism” you’ve brought me back to my question about public relations. How is solution-oriented journalism different in any substantive way from PR, lobbying or any other form of advocacy or activism? Pretty slippery slope here.

    Ultimately, revenue flows to a quality product for which there is a sufficiently large demand. (Duh!) At the moment I’d say the jury is out on the RepJ “product” (meaning both an understanding of what it is or could be, and an assessment of its quality), and it’s an open question if reductions in and frustrations with other sources of news and community conversation will create a large enough local market with enough demand to provide the financial resources.

    January 3, 2009
  20. Mona Obremski said:

    Anne Bretts:OK, so you would need 500 people to cough $1 a week to pay even a minimum starting salary and probably no benefits.
    Who hires the reporter?

    Good question and I’d like to know the answer as well, Anne, with an e.
    In my state, an employer must provide an employee, with a health care plan.

    Griff – I’m sending you a percentage of my donation to public broadcasting. I wish there were a logrono in my town and I’m sure that you wish there was too.

    January 4, 2009
  21. Leonard Witt said:

    Randy in #69 writes:

    I want journalists to be smarter and better informed than I am …

    Good luck, I have been around journalists most of my adult life and I know the vast majority are not smarter than you are. Indeed, they are fairly typical folk. They know what they know, what they specialize in, but beyond that they are no smarter than the average person. They need YOUR collective help to better understand issues.

    Speaking of smart, let’s go to Griff in #66, he has a well defined vision of what civic engagement could be. Indeed, I hope the triumvirate, Bonnie and the Locally Grown community can take the NTV story as far along that civic engagement path as possible.

    Let’s repeat what Griff wrote:

    As an example, Bonnie’s story on NTV could result in the Council taking steps to address the issue. A new community media task force could be formed and some citizens who’ve been engaged in helping Bonnie to write that story might step forward to volunteer to serve on that task force, to contribute ideas to the task force, to speak to their councilors about it, to write letters to the editor or blog about it. And maybe one of those citizens will have such a good experience with that level of engagement that they’ll seek appointment on another board or commission or even decide to run for office some day. That’s just one civic capacity-building scenario I could imagine.

    So to make all of the above happen, what are the next steps?

    One more Griff item, this one from #67:

    our civic issues require the involvement of our elected representatives who have to seek out the viewpoints of the broader citizenry, not just the “citizen driven-deliberations” of those online.

    And that’s why I think a mission that emphasizes civic-capacity building is better.

    I totally agree that “civic-capacity building” is the higher virtue and that informed deliberation either face to face or via places such as Locally Grown is but one component of getting the capacity building done. However, without that informed deliberation component, I don’t think you can have a robust civic space.

    So the mission is civic capacity building. One tool is informed public deliberation.

    I will be in Northfield and environs from Jan. 15 to 18. I would love to host a little get together for the Locally Grown community, perhaps just to say hello and to celebrate the accomplishments here at Locally Grown but maybe also to collectively map out the architecture that Griff proposes. Your thoughts?

    January 4, 2009
  22. kiffi summa said:

    Leonard : I responded to you back in my comment #57 (jan2, 7:39am) but it got buried, so you might not have seen it… Could you look back and respond if interested?

    Mona: ‘Thread Drift’ … but you definitely get the award for the coolest gravatar!

    January 4, 2009
  23. David Ludescher said:

    Leonard: The goal of journalism should be the truth.

    January 4, 2009
  24. Leonard Witt said:

    First David at #73, yes, the goal of journalism should be truth, but whose truth, yours or mine? Dewey’s or Lippman’s? A reporter’s embedded in a tank or a civilian’s on the receiving end of that’s tank’s mission?

    On Kiffi at #57. Clay Shirky is the author of a book entitled Here Comes Everybody. He is brilliant, I will let him answer your question about newspapers and revenues with an interview he did at the Columbia Journalism Review. Part II of that interview is entitled: ““Newspapers have discovered civic function awfully late to be taken seriously”

    Then he says:

    Five years ago, I think I would have bet on the newspapers as they exist today being a big part of that new equilibrium—but, you know, they’ve done very, very little and been really unimaginative. So now, I think, if I had to make the same bet, I’d say most newspapers aren’t going to survive. Every bit of concern around the Web is, “How can we raise revenues to our existing cost structure?” rather than “How can we lower our cost structure to meet our existing revenues?”

    Jeff Jarvis at Buzzmachine makes a long listof newspaper woes, with these two included:

    Jeffrey Cole of the University of Southern California Annenberg School’s Center for the Digital Future found in a 2007 survey that young people 12 to 25 will “never read a newspaper.” Never.

    • In 2008, the American Society of Newspaper Editors took “paper” out of its name.

    Good news…

    • But newspaper online site audience has long since surpassed print circulation, reaching 69 million unique users in fall 2008, according to NAA.

    • And the total online news audience is about 100 million—more than half total U.S. internet users—according to ComScore.

    So you and I might love newspapers, but we are a dwindling breed. That, to take us get back to Randy, is the truth and it is hard to deny.

    January 4, 2009
  25. kiffi summa said:

    Re : # 73 ,David says to Leonard: ” The goal of journalism should be the truth.”
    I think it’s a tad more complicated than that …
    I would say: A goal of journalism should be accuracy in reporting, given that “truth” may be difficult to establish, except with regard to Fact.

    January 5, 2009
  26. David Koenig said:

    Is it “truth”or “transparency”. I would tend to think the latter given the subjective nature of the former (as Leonard pointed out).

    January 5, 2009
  27. David Ludescher said:

    Griff and Leonard: One premise of citizen journalism seems to be that traditional forms of journalism, i.e. newspapers are failing because of the poor quality of the content.

    An additional premise is that citizen journalism will result in better content, which in turn, will result in greater readership.

    I don’t think either of these premises are true. An active, engaged online community may be no more helpful to civic community building than television was to education.

    Leonard: Your comments on the “truth” are telling. If you don’t know what the truth is, think that it is subjective, or think that it depends upon whose viewpoint is told, how is the journalist to decide what he or she should write? Does it depend upon who you want to sell it to?

    January 5, 2009
  28. Leonard Witt said:

    David Ludescher #77

    Professional journalism is not perfect. Citizen journalism is not perfect. Nonetheless, I am an advocate of professional journalism, that’s what Rep J is all about. But I think it will get better with citizen participation.

    David, you define truth for me. But to keep it on target, do it in relationship to journalism.

    January 5, 2009
  29. Anne Bretts said:

    Newspapers aren’t ‘failing’ because content is poor any more than CDs are failing because music is lousy. CDs are failing because people are downloading music, and newspapers are failing because the Internet offers more content than can fit on the finite space in a newspaper. They’re failing because journalists sold them to ‘investment groups’ who sucked all the value out of them, leveraged them to the hilt and walked away with their commissions while the papers were left swimming in debt they couldn’t cover even if the industry weren’t changing.
    But journalism won’t die, just like music hasn’t died. It has just changed.
    Artists are making their own music and videos and creating their own fan bases and business models. Unfortunately, most don’t make money. But some do. Bloggers generally don’t make money, but occasionally one breaks through. Huffington Post is a glowing example of ‘new’ journalism that is not only smart, energetic and comprehensive but financially successful — at least for the owner. Sadly, the writers aren’t paid…so I guess that makes them citizen journalists, too, at least for now. Funny how the workers always end up the guinea pigs.

    January 5, 2009
  30. Griff Wigley said:

    James Poniewozik has a column in Time this week titled MediaApocolypse Now / An End, and a Beginning, for the Media

    People want the vetted information the news media offer–and they want to riff on it, respond to it and even, as in Mumbai, add to it. Journalists should embrace that rather than futilely fight it.

    This means offering users more ways of interacting, commenting and contributing. It means seeing new media not as the dumbing down of civilization but as a new way of telling stories and even finding stories. And it means recognizing that the audience is no longer passive–it wants and expects to participate, even as it wants help in making sense of the info deluge.

    In other words, the media business needs to see that the shovel it got whacked with–the change in the way people communicate and the spreading of that power–is not necessarily a weapon or a means to make our graves. It’s just a tool. Time to start digging.

    January 5, 2009
  31. Griff Wigley said:

    Kiffi (#68), I’m not discouraged by the lack of turnout at most City Council meetings or candidate forums. Those are primarily one-way communication venues that require overcoming a fear of public speaking to actively participate… plus, as you say, most people are interested in issues that affect them most closely. Hence, the relatively large turnout tonight at City Hall for the Way Park public hearing… I’d guess 50 or more attended for that issue. I think 6 12 spoke. Others wrote letters, polled their neighbors, and convened local meetings. To me, that’s robust civic engagement.

    I’m encouraged by the 6-7,000 people who show up at LG every month.

    I’m encouraged by the 20,200 comments that have submitted thus far.

    I’m encouraged by the number of people I meet who’ve never added a comment here but who speak knowledgeably about the issues being discussed because they’ve been following along.

    To me, all that’s a part, albeit small, of building civic capacity in the citizenry.

    January 5, 2009
  32. Griff Wigley said:

    Randy (#69), I agree that the technology has enabled people to “self-select into ever smaller communities of narrow interests, with diminishing abilities to empathize, compromise, or even take interest in others outside the group that shares our interest.”

    Which is why I choose to spend time using online tools to enhance GEOGRAPHIC community.

    And it’s partly why I embraced Len’s RepJ concept because it would mean having a reporter who could help bring more voices to the issues being discussed online — people whose opinions we don’t tend to hear here.

    What I don’t understand is why you object to Bonnie posing questions publicly while she’s working on a story.  

    If any good reporter interviewed you over the phone about an issue, say NTV, they might say, “Randy, who else do you think I should talk to about this issue?”

    You might give them a name of someone who sides with you on the issue, or you might give them the name of someone who you respect in general who might contribute.  They may or may not follow up on your suggestions.  They might interview David Koenig next and could ask him, “Randy Jennings thinks I should also talk to John Doe and Mary Smith. What do you think of those suggestions?”

    And so on.

    So why not do some of that publicly here where hundreds of people have a chance to suggest names or react to the names being suggested?

    Likewise, a reporter interviewing you might challenge your assertions, might invite you to challenge their assertions, might call back to clarify a point further after they interviewed someone else.

    Why not do some of that publicly, too? Why not leverage the medium to try to harness more of the collective intelligence of the citizenry instead of just one-on-one, reporter-to-interviewee?

    Ultimately, Bonnie still has to put her journalist hat on to make sense of it all and produce the quality artifact that we all want.

    But the process leading up to that artifact can be very different…. more collaborative and more transparent. And the end product has a better chance of being appreciatively received by the citizenry.

    January 5, 2009
  33. David Ludescher said:

    Leonard: Journalism is true if what is written corresponds to what exists in experience.

    Randy J. has already articulated the main problem with citizen journalism – the lack of discipline in addressing the truth of citizen input.

    January 5, 2009
  34. Randy Jennings said:

    Prof. Witt,
    When we talk about the death of newspapers, what will that mean to the production of the original content that is repackaged and discussed in the blogosphere? I don’t necessarily find the shift from newsPAPER readers to newspaper ONLINE readers to be all that problematic. The delivery of the information to the consumer really isn’t the issue. More interesting is the question of who/what will generate the content. Right now, the vast majority of the news material I see online has been produced by professional journalists, working in professional news organizations (some print, some broadcast, but relatively little originated by internet-only sources).

    The value, to me, of these traditional news organizations isn’t that professionals have a handle on truth. I differ with David L. in that I don’t want my journalists thinking that they are reporting the truth. I want them reporting as objectively and dispassionately as is humanly possible. I want them obsessed with factual material, with documenting their sources, and with giving thought to what they report *before* they publish. This, Griff, is my objection to posting material as works-in-process. Publishing a half-reported story gives people the impression that what they are reading is complete, largely because that’s the way — rightly or wrongly — we’ve been acculturated. When someone posts incomplete, or worse, eroneous information, even with the best of intentions to be “transparent,” there’s a genie let out of the bottle that can’t be recaptured with an update or a correction. Sure, transparency is generally a good thing, but it’s not an end state.

    Imagine the headline: GRIFF WIGLEY IS A ROTTEN PERSON. Then, a few days later the correction, buried on page 2, or down a screen or two: “Correction: Griff Wigley is not so rotten after all.” Which will people notice and remember? The first impression, the first reporting on a story, has far more impact than the correction or completion.

    While I respect the effort you (Griff) put into trying to make Locally Grown a beneficial forum for community conversation, at the end of the day it is a commentary dominated by the views a few people who do not, in any democratic sense, represent anyone. There is one main blogger, two partners in the blogging, a couple dozen dominant responding voices, another hundred or so occasional respondents, and a bunch of lurkers. It’s not a forum that reaches any more Northfielders than the Nfld News or the city newsletter stuffed in our utility bills. Because it moves more quickly, though, Locally Grown is able to convey an impression of greater community engagement. I’m not sure greater velocity equals a more democratic process. I’d prefer to continue to vote for my representatives, rather than accept whomever blogs fastest.

    I spent a lot of years working in the book publishing industry. We’ve been moaning about the death of the book for two or three decades, but somehow the number of titles published continues to grow. I’d guess the news-gathering function of traditional media will continue to limp along for quite some time. In the meantime, I’ll just curl up with a good book…

    January 5, 2009
  35. Anne Bretts said:

    Kiffi, I know you didn’t ask me, but the answer is having a comprehensive plan, a parks plan, a transportation grid, a zoning code, a whole set of community wide priorities against which you can measure an individual project.
    It’s the same principle that keeps victims from serving on the jury of their attackers, that keeps doctors from treating their own families and keep journalists from serving on the public bodies they cover.
    People in the neighborhood get a say, they just don’t get the final say. That goes to the council, which represents the entire community.

    January 6, 2009
  36. Jerry Friedman said:

    David L.’s and my (much smaller) legal background probably influences our shared position on the obligation of journalists to publish the truth. While two people can look at the same event and derive different conclusions, the truth has more to do with the facts of the event and less to do with the journalist’s conclusion. As Randy just commented, a conclusion of “GRIFF WIGLEY IS A ROTTEN PERSON” has no underlying facts. If the article included facts that support such a conclusion, the headline might be sensational but the article would be good journalism.

    I don’t suggest that journalists should avoid publishing their conclusions. An article stating facts, but no analysis nor conclusion, would be a dry recipe of an event. I recall Charles Darwin being criticized as a scientist because he published facts, analyses and conclusions instead of just facts. He retorted that a geologist who reported the quantities and qualities of rocks, but offered no analysis, was not fulfilling his role as a scientist, explaining the meaning of the rocks. I find this example to apply directly to journalism. A journalist’s job is to report the facts and explain them through the journalist’s point-of-view.

    If the facts are faithfully presented, then a journalist’s wrong conclusion will do little harm. Wrong conclusions are not to be feared. No journalist, no editor, is perfect. What I fear is when key facts are missing or warped.

    So what is “truth”? For journalism, it’s like scientific work. Look at all the facts. Identify the key facts. And write the story of what happened including at minimum all of the key facts. What is a key fact? It’s a fact that, in its absence, would have changed the event.

    I believe that the tendency of major media to seek advertising, especially to pay their journalists and themselves, causes sensationalism to be the goal, and in turn, hurts the truth from getting out. Journalism can be sensationalistic so long as the goal is to publish the facts. Again I cite the Fox story about harmful levels of BGH (bovine growth hormone) in milk, and Monsanto (who manufactures artificial BGH) got the story killed. The worst part of major media, a corruption of their oath to journalism, is the very best part of citizen journalism, because Monsanto could not silence all the citizen journalists like they were able to silence one corporation.

    January 6, 2009
  37. kiffi summa said:

    Process issue: Griff : Your comment of Jan5,9:53 replies to my comment , #59, but I have no comment with that number on my screen; number 59 is from Randy Jennings … so I have no idea “que pasa”?
    This must be an anomaly of your holding comments back, or else you just quoted an incorrect number.

    January 6, 2009
  38. Anne Bretts said:

    The nearby report on the Way Park public hearing is a classic example of the benefits and dangers of civic engagement.
    There were about 50 people there it seems, mostly those who live around the park and want the road closed. It’s great that they showed up, but 50 people out of a population of 20,000 is a very small special interest group. If the road closing had been in conflict with the city’s master plan and traffic grid, the council would have had to try to explain to the good people that just because a vocal group dominates a meeting, that doesn’t equate to the decision being either popular or in the public good. Happily, it seems the residents and the plan were in agreement.
    The danger only comes when the people who show up at a meeting believe they speak for anyone but themselves or the folks they’ve contacted and have authority to represent.
    I’ve mentioned before that this is like the parents who show up to fight a school closing and feel betrayed when they don’t prevail, when the board has to act for the benefit of an entire district.
    As long as everyone can keep things in perspective, civic engagement is a wonderful process.

    January 6, 2009
  39. kiffi summa said:

    Griff; re your #81, I would agree that is robust civic engagement, all well documented as part of a legal process, a Public Hearing., which the city is obligated to engage in for the closing of a street.
    How would you answer Anne’s claim, #87, of competing “benefits and dangers” of those who show up, and those who (presumably) do not care enough to show up?
    I simply can’t think of how to count the opinion of those who are silent … Ouija Board?
    Have you got a solution to that , Griff?

    January 6, 2009
  40. David Ludescher said:

    Randy: Clarification – I want my journalists to be concerned with seeking the truth, not thinking that they have the truth. Reporting objectively and dispassionately is important. Reporting completely is also a requirement.

    I refuse to believe that the truth is so elusive that we should focus on other goals, such as tranparency or engagement.

    January 6, 2009
  41. kiffi summa said:

    So … keeping in mind Bonnie’s ‘morning after’ interview with our new Mayor, and the one response I see this morning, which gives a “C-” for technique, the questions must be asked:
    1. Is NF UN-accepting of a straightforward , actual interview technique? Is it somehow too ‘harsh’ in this cultural venue?
    2. Is it more or less, unfair to let the interviewee speak in their own words, or to have the reporter possibly assign some descriptive word to a person’s actions, as other local news sources continually do?

    Re: #2, I’ll take the privilege of answering my own question: I think we, the readers, are all thinking persons, able to evaluate the situation in which the information was gathered, and therefore able to evaluate the quality of the answers.
    I can easily set aside it was the morning after being sworn in, and the new Mayor’s answers, if leaving something to be desired in either style or content, should be judged only within the existing environment.
    For instance, I saw/heard the answers re ‘public process’ as regulating to LIMIT, rather than regulating to PROVIDE … but that would be in opposition to Mayor Rossing’s campaign rhetoric, so I am willing to say, “Tough situation for speaking off the top of one’s head, so, wait and see”…

    Let’s not always shoot the messenger.

    January 7, 2009
  42. David Koenig said:

    David L, “transparency” in this setting is about bringing facts and context to light. I think that is what you are talking about, not “truth”.

    How one interprets those facts and the context in which they have come about is how one might decide what is the “truth” in their minds, similar to how a jury of peers would render a verdict.

    If not, you should answer Leonard’s question to you in post #74 about what “truth” means: “whose truth…a reporter’s embedded in a tank or a civilian’s on the receiving end of that’s tank’s mission?”

    January 7, 2009
  43. David Ludescher said:

    David K: Juries decide the facts, not the truth. Courts administer justice, not truth.

    January 7, 2009
  44. David Koenig said:

    David L, it would seem to me that juries decide the truth based on the facts and context presented to them. Or, at least their best opinion of the truth based on the aforementioned.

    Facts are not things that are determined by opinion. They either are or are not factual. So, maybe we see the meaning of terms “truth” and “fact” differently.

    How do you respond to Leonard’s question, though, about which is the truth in the situation he describes? Do you agree that there may be two or more “truths” in this situation?

    January 7, 2009
  45. kiffi summa said:

    David K. and David L.: I don’t think the two of you are going to agree in this semantic game.
    But I also have a question for David L.: Have you ever served on a jury? (Maybe attorneys are not permitted to do so???)
    If you have ever served on a jury which is considering a very serious, VERY serious question, you would believe that there is no more ‘truthful’ concept of the ‘truth’, than that put forth by “Rashomon”. The higher the stakes the more perceptions of each person as to their version of the truth.

    January 7, 2009
  46. David Henson said:

    I know this is thread drift but 90-95% of felonies in the US are handled by plea bargain … so must judges and juries never get to hear facts. This is a very sad fact in country that once held ‘trial by jury’ as a cornerstone of freedom.

    January 7, 2009
  47. Jerry Friedman said:

    David K: My understanding of “transparency” is when a journalist shows the process and identifies the sources of the story. Transparency allows anyone to follow the same process and access the same sources in order to verify the story. As with government, transparency is an immense asset for credibility.

    On the contrary, “truth” is not about process but it’s about reporting on key facts, material facts, from all sides.

    If we ran a psychological study on the moral development of children, and we report only on the nice boys and the mean girls, we are working against “truth”. Our readers would be deprived of key facts and they may accept our flawed analysis and conclusion.

    When a journalist obscures facts, the danger is the probability of readers to accept the journalist’s flawed analysis and conclusion. But if the journalist presents facts, even if the journalist’s analysis and conclusion are wrong, the reader is better equipped to draw a different and better conclusion. The journalist should report on the tank’s crew and the tank’s victims, or else “truth” suffers. Such reporting is not favored by sensationalists, propagandists, and patriots, but journalists should have no loyalty to them.

    January 7, 2009
  48. Jerry Friedman said:

    David L: Juries are charged with determining the truth. They hear the evidence (or facts) and work to determine which facts as true.

    If witness “A” says that the defendant killed Superman, and witness “B” says that someone else killed Superman, the jury’s responsibility is to determine the truth.

    As a practical matter, juries don’t always determine the truth. But it’s their job to try.

    Kiffi: Lawyers may serve on juries but for various reasons don’t usually get the opportunity to do so. I have served on a jury once. The defendant was charged with impersonating a police officer. Two jurors frightened me, the foreman who after two days of deliberation said, “I have a business to run. Let’s just convict this guy and get out of here.” Second was a juror who said he was scared by a man waving a gun, so people should not impersonate police officers, so the defendant was guilty. His opinion had nothing to do with the trial.

    January 7, 2009

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