Old Media Meets the New

All participants in the Journalism That Matters D.C. program have been paired up to conduct pre-event interviews with each other, and get a jump start on the discourse.

My assigned partner, Paul Janensch, is, in his own words, a “battle-scarred idealist” with acres of cred as top ed for a variety of newspapers, and currently teaches and comments on journalism from his position at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut.

Our interview has been posted on the JTM wiki, but you can also read it below. Paul took the lead in writing it, we took turns fidgeting with the final, and the results follow.

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Paul Janensch & Josh Wilson interview each other

Pairing new media guy Josh Wilson with old media guy Paul Janensch was fortuitous. As Josh and Paul conversed by e-mail and on the telephone, they discovered that they have a mutual respect for each other’s media orientation and agree on basic values but disagree on the way tomorrow’s journalism will be practiced.

They also realized that ideas about “old” and “new” media are not set in stone. Josh considers himself an “old media” person who views new media technology as another tool for reporting. Paul notes that Josh’s lifelong familiarity with computer technology makes him a “new media” person whether he likes it or not

Paul, 68, teaches journalism at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut and comments on the news media for the Connecticut Post of Bridgeport and the five stations of WNPR Connecticut Public Radio Connecticut Public Radio/WNPR. Look for his audio comments by clicking on “News” and then “Commentary” starting on the WNPR home page. He was the top editor of The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky., the Rockland Journal News in Nyack, N.Y., and the Telegram & Gazette in Worcester, Mass. His e-mail address is paul.janensch -AT- quinnipiac.edu. He does not have a blog.

Josh, 39, a San Francisco journalist, is the founder of Newsdesk.org, a nonprofit, commercial free news project. He is a co-founder of Independent Arts & Media, a free speech/civil-society nonprofit that expands civic dialogue by increasing access to independent voices. He has done print and online work for SFGate.com, the San Jose Mercury News, Wired Magazine and the Meredith Corp. His e-mail address is edit -AT- artsandmedia.net; he also recently started the blog Illuminated Media (hi!).

Josh and Paul agree that both new and old media can learn from each other. From the new media, the old media can learn to be more nimble, more innovative and more personal. From the old, the new can learn to be more disciplined, more careful and to do a better job of planning and following up.

Quote from Josh: “For all the good reporting out there (in the old media), there’s a lot more that’s overlooked or undeveloped. Bringing that to light seems like an important goal for any journalist or publisher concerned with providing value to his or her community.”

Both are pleased that the old media and the new media are working more closely together. The best of the old media, such as major newspapers and network television news, have sophisticated (and popular) Internet sites. The new conventional wisdom seems to be that a successful news organization must provide information on a variety of platforms. But they are disappointed that generally the old media’s interactive sites are really extensions of the traditional product, rather than true partners.

Quote from Paul: “I have seen few break-through presentation of a Big Story, in which traditional and new platforms complement one another, not just convey the same information in different formats.” He added this comment after seeing coverage of the Minneapolis bridge disaster: “The way old media and their new media sites added value on this major story by working as partners was most impressive.”

Both Josh and Paul subscribe to the traditional values of journalism — be accurate, fair, clear, timely and interesting.

Josh thinks old media have too much of a Pollyanna attitude about new media technology — that if only they can apply the technology correctly, all the problems of the current media economy will be solved. This, he says, ignores deeper problems with both the current for-profit business model, which demands unrealistic profit margins, and also biases news coverage away from working-class issues to appease advertisers seeking access to upscale audiences.

Paul thinks the new media could be more consistent in verifying information, not just repeating it, and that until it improves its journalism methodology, it risks its credibility and also limits its potential as a source of news and information.

As for the future, Paul expects the typical journalist to be comfortable presenting the news on various platforms – print, radio, video and interactive – and not be restricted to newspapers, television or whatever. He assumes that most news organizations still will be owned by large, profit-making companies. He hopes they will be satisfied with an annual return of “only” 15-20 percent, which is substantial in virtually every business sector outside of the media.

Josh has a more idealistic vision in which nonprofit, commercial-free news outlets complement and compete with those that are for-profit. He wants to see a decentralized newsroom in which “reporters and editors share responsibility and set their own news agendas based on their professional judgment, rather than in response to the profit demands of the publishers and shareholders.” Revenue would come from syndication of their work and from users and supporters – “a sort of hybrid of newspaper subscribers and public radio donors.”

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