Commentary from Community Forum Panel

How communities real and virtual are changing through media. What are the new ways for people to use information, news, and journalism to imagine their collective possibilities as communities and to set and reach common community goals. Can community be virtual? Let’s find out what some of the web thinkers and tinkers think.

Moderator: Merrill Brown, MMB Media (MB)

Social fabric of contemporary life is at the head of this conversation. Five perspectives on what community means from panel.

Shel Israel, Naked Conversations: “Global neighborhoods,” a new book by Israel. Communities are virtual yet lasting. What’s happening on the net — MySpace, Facebook — are tools for people to find each other by interest. If they love hummingbirds, can start community of passionate hummingbird lovers. People search for others like themselves and influence each other, more so than traditional means.

Let’s look at what happens when the online generation comes of age and replace boomers? How do you communicate with you and to them.

Ian Rowe, of MTV: Community for viewers of MTV? In age of customization; change is constant. young wants content when they want it; the same with issues. Seeing audience is telling us great focused on global warming, HIV, but I have other issues that are important to me. They want to connect with other young people. Getting young people to take action and meet others like themselves.

idea: A common thread for young and old using the web is finding others with common interest. Essential.

Rich Skrenta, Topix: Relationship between technology and community. Net is two-way communication. Print is old style, one way communication. Expensive. Net is people talking to people, not just on certain subjects but on special interest issues.
Facilitates millions of simultaneous conversations. Need robust technical systems to keep conversation on track. Don’t want conversation derailed by lower 5 percent. There is a cultural clash between global community of net and traditional newsrooms. investing in social architecture and systems provided of by the net as a conversation facilitator.

Jan Schaffer, J-Lab: Look at community from bottom up. New research report says hyper local citizen journalism sites are not so much acts of journalism but community building. Deal with naked caring and passion. They are outside of comfort zone of traditional journalists. Don’t make much money, though. Success is defined as impact on community. Increase voter turnout in some cases; others reported that on sites were new and old timers who never spoke out in community got online. Stories are not finished stories, but a fusion of news and chose. Observersational and a rapid growing phenom. We identiified 500 of these sites in October. Hyperlocal.

idea: Web as convener and creator of community.

Lisa Stone: BlogHer: Started as a blogger for women on THEIR issues. Now over 1000 blogs on website. From food family to technology and politics. Women now have took to talk about what they care about. Women are now active about what they see and hear. No longer passive.

idea: web enpowers the individual, a new tool for those who have lacked voice in the past. Invisible communities are now out there and conversing about what is important to THEM. “How do I cook the turkey”

There are elephants in the room. Oh-oh.

MB: What’s local? Community is now fragmented. How do traditional media respond?

Gannett: Looking far beyond geography, but locally at what informs the conversation. We are responding powerfully. IMpact is immediate and way beyond anyone’s expectation. Right under the surface waiting to explode. We are welcoming it.

How will Gannett move forward?

We are in middle of major initiative that is embracing and working at breakneck speed.

idea: Traditional media is responding, finally…

Chideya: NPR host and blogger: In Zimbabwe (pardon my spelling) working on a documentary. People have cell phones but takes hour to connect. There is a consensus there that providing online space and telecom space will increase productively and increase free speech and good governance but government is limiting and controlling this to remain in power.

idea: How do you circumvent government attempts to prevent the conversation from starting? In Cuba only government workers have access to computers and the Net.

Dorian Benkoil: MediaBistro: We are a community on and off line and started 15 years ago and 10 years ago went to web. Now over 700,000 members, smarter than most. IF we ask a question of community we get an answer in seconds. Business and ethical quandaries have arisen. A powerful community of people who have answers to questions. i.e. ethical issues in job interviews…

Where are things going?

Eduardo Hauser, Daily Me: Do people go to local or national website? Where are people going on the net. The net, computer and monitor are inseparable. The net medium is great for collecting and disseminating thoughts. Can we leverage the power of the net and distribute info differently. Many still get their news by traditional means. Can leverage power of net and go beyond the screen, be that abroad or in the U.S.

idea: So newspapers aren’t dead? yet?

Hauser: It may be time to take content that’s online and publish it elsewhere. On paper. We deliver your paper free online and on paper.

Where are we going?

Israel: Hauser speaks Spanish and I speak English. laughing… 23 million papers printed and delivered everyday. meanwhile, 50 million people are clicking on sites. Looking forward will find these numbers will move very quickly. I start with coffee and NYT, but in 63 I walked into college and paper was free. I’d never seen the NYT before. I figures girls would think I was smart cause I read the NYT.

idea: so he’s still reading the NYT.

Hauser: reads the times for sports, etc. My granddaughter has never touched a paper. By time she’ s in college she will get info on line and be influenced by people also online. Media companies will be distribution points for what’s important to people and do it online. Religious aspect of reading newspaper every day is fading, fast.. I head people here still saying ‘we will deliver them…’ but it’s the opposite. We become the media. mike goes off. we chose, we assemble it. it’s easier to assemble what we come across and digest.

Rowe: There’s another elephant. Our entire business model is not on people deciding what’s important to them but this is a show you will watch at 9 on Sunday. But that’s not a concern for top-down media, but for us. There’s a risk of customization. A person may chose to get the news only from sources supportive of their ideas, or speaking to those already converted. From MTV perspective, we are excited about self-publishing (mike is back) we also want to ensure there is also top-down packet of info that is getting to young people. We decide to do story about spiking rates in tuition, and we will put it on the air at the same time that young people are putting out there own info.

idea: a challenge is to balance top down media and self-publishing

audience: Is it community or communities? People will participate in very different communities.

Skrenta: Worldwide discussion going on about various types of issues at a global scale. This is journalism.

Shaffer: Conversations are not journalism.

idea: community media: is it or isn’t it journalism?

Stone: Did we love Lucy or was she just on? Hyper local communities really want to discuss and events of journalism occur within these discussions. example: attorneys were blogging on things that happened incourse that day. There is expertise on blogs that’s not available in the media. That to me is journalism, what the audience is looking for. My recommendation on hyper local sites is to develop and area of extreme expertise where you will be a locus for that expertise.

Question: what is a journalism? Has the notion of a journalist changed?

Shaffer: act of journalism is gathering data and putting it in useful form. There is useful and not useful journalism. There stories are not score cards in the sky; ordinary people don’t’ frame journalism that way. Journalism may need to reexamine our knee jerk convention to get back to question of values.

Rowe: there a difference between true investigative journalism and what is consumed as fact. For the oppressed, they didn’t have a voice. Now they have a platform to speak out. but the danger is that my opinion can be flawed or skewed, but if I put it out there and others like what I said that becomes news or fact and that’s not journalism. Journalists should keep in mind they need to cherish the role of investigation and fact verification and educate the masses.

What’s journalism?

Israel: What’s useful to me. there are people who make living writing on pieces of paper, but births of alien babies that’s not journalism. not all bloggers are journalists. We happen to meet in a certain place in certain time and something happens, if in Lodon Tube and bomb goes off and they post that video that’s how BBC. citizen journalists have the ability to add to what journalists do. But they don’t get paid to go somewhere. Now we are going from A to B. How will journalism look going forward is a question. Now there’s tension between journalists and million of people on the street posting videos, pix, blogs. They are also journalists.

What about advocacy?

Stone: There are thousands of savedarfour being posted on the web every day. We are trying to launch a channel named social change and two editors cover what are we doing online to raise money. The best grassroots example is a person with degenerate disease he will not survive. He’s 10. Someone he met online started a web attempt to raise money for awareness. it caught fire and raised $9,000 in short time.

audience: conversation vs journalism. We’re seeing conversation contains seeds of journalism but not everyone wants to be a journalist. It’s still “we” speak and they converse. We pay a lot of attention on what media is covering and then we pick up there. Every story came from a user comment saying hey this related to what a viewer says.

yes, let’s get back to community on the net

Shaffer: There’s a defensive posture among mainstream journalism without seeing the net conversation as a source for stories, etc.

audience: I don’t see what happens in my community in the local newspaper. I feel corporations not doing the job of covering communities. that’s why hyper local sites have come out of nowhere. How can these mainstream media sources remain relevant to community, to neighborhoods, and make a business out of it?

Rowe: We hyper local to get leads for stories and that’s the great way to embrace self-publishing.

idea: Isn’t it about traditional media respecting its audience, hearing what they have to say, what’s on their minds?

audience: question: we have bloggers, and how do we incorporate what they have to say into the produce? at the beginning, at the end?

Israel: The decision making and power is moving from organizations who decide when to do things to community. from board room decisions to communities where they most influential people don’t have the longest title but the most generous in what they are giving. It will self organize from the bottom to the top.

audience: We are trying to organize to allow in-put from the beginning. You have to the vicious five percent you have to have a system that rewards good behavior, so focus on how to reward people who are productive.

audience: a social entrepreneur distributed cell phones to communities to have a voice. This was an NGO and this is a concept of community we should think about. They are using the tools to get the word out.

idea: Global empowerment will happen if we get the right tools to communities.

Question: How do we organize the pubic?

audience: we are not endangered because of what we see on blogs.

audience: is media the right word for community and conversation. mediation has been removed and we are communicating directly. Let’s create a new language.

Stone: Let’s ask media?


Israel: I feel I’m radical fringe because we don’t organize what they will get; the community is taking this power. you don’t organize what happens. the community is organizing. The issue is that there is a human, social revolution hat has begun and you should be looking at what the world looks like in 10 or 12 years when online generation has the power.

Rowe: In 2012, we’ll have a different relationship with our audience. We operate with small group of people and we do research and make decisions about what goes on our channels but that will not be process down the road; may not have long-form content. People are saying to us that they want short content. We’ll have a lot more input from young people in terms of creative process. We need a balance between self publishing and what we put on the air.

Skrenta: we are focusing on hyper local and opening doors to the individual. There is no news for most communities in the U.S. but there is stuff going on there but not covered or reported. Why not? There has to be a means for this to be covered online and for people to form communities and bond with their neighbors. We’re still figuring this out.

Shaffer: What’s rising to the top is not ideas being replicated but new missed opportunities that people are turning into something and creating added value. How do you identify those missed opportunities.

Stone: BlogHer will be mainstream media in the future. BLogHer publishes on 165 blogs and in future we will help women use blogs into economic engine.

“We Journalism panel”

Hosts: Michael Tippett, NowPublic; Chris Nolan, Spot-On

How do partnerships with public impact on traditional site.

How do you encourage people to build community?

Participants: 30

part: Hal Straus:

Pay up to 10,000 depending on page reaches. It affects ability to recruit people with deep roots in the country.

Two levels of participation: a panel of journalists or experts and we pay them; but we have reader responses, things we think are relevant to the conversation and then more responses for everyone who wants to say something.

Is this affecting editorial work in newsroom?

I don’t know. People who moderate it are well-known columnists and they listen to what goes on and each have written columns that directly played off of questions they have asked to responses they got.

Micheal Maness, Gannet: DID AN EXPERIMENT IN GEORGIA …citizens in cape coral — were able to get gov docs right away…benefit of FIO process and small m working together…
seeds were asking the ? how do you involve people from the very beginning…asking on line — “what do you want us to cover?” within hours, a whistle blower sent us documents! we had a forum set up, also a phone number…a bulletin board set up.
normally, it would have been “citizens upset at city council meeting….”

MICHEAL: the aim of this session is to pull out ideas …does this change our editorial policies in journalism…

MANNES: we have reporters embedded in the community…someone sits in the student union all the time …hyper-local community info gets posted, the bigger stories come out of that.

MAN: most of what i learned professionally, socially, etc, i learned in the news room — are they missing something?

WOMAN: this is the most profound change…i used to always be out at first … the skills are different, being out talking to people — when i hear stuff like this, it gives me faith in the business.

ANDREW HAEG: we found that there can be that “town hall” dynamism with having that conversation.

MICHEAL SKOLER: now fewer people gathering news, more people re-packaging, distributing news.

we’re all covering more complex communities, issues are also complex. harder to have context .,..

MARTIN: maybe communities and issues always complex, just not covered in that way.

WOMAN: how many of you have skype on your desk top? i run an entire business using skype…important for reporters to get out

WOMAN: geography is very relevant! disconnect in neighborhoods, so if news is only gathered by those who have the technology (PDA, blogs, etc) what news are we missing? we need to go out to the gatherings…

WOMAN: what info/advice for educators?

WOMAN: teach them how to report…get a camera, use the computer and skype…

MAN: need to reach communities in multiple ways. on a lot of platforms.

WOMAN: embedded notion of being out in the communities have given us the opportunity to be back were we belong…if we are just on the discussion online, we are not giving our audience the way to have a transformative experience walking in someone else’s shoes.

AROCHA: no need to put it in the context of “good or bad” citizens can help us do our job better…when i started, i went out to farm labor camps, did shoe leather reporting…over time, we have become richer, older, fatter, have become part of upper middle class and do not reflect many communities…now onus is on us to re-connect.

SKOLER: i will describe a model we have been using. Minn Public Radio and American Public Media created a database to learn about many sources…daily in MPR newsroom…on a daily basis, can tap people to have the info they have into the editorial process.
Citizen journalists vs people sharing their knowledge, e.g. on K-12 education…we pulled people who had knowledge and pulled from this to influence day’s reporting

another example, all pilots on the database informed our story on plane crash…

we create continuing relationships…

WOMAN: how did you find people in the workplace?

SKOLER: asked on the air…using technology to track and manage sources…

WOMAN: you are connecting the connectors?

SKOLER: we also do outreach to groups not in our regular listener base?

MAN: how will this thing evolve?

SKOLER: we find over time, we can get more specific.

HAEG: analysts work with journalists to shape stories from the very beginning…

SKOLER: our process goes through regular journalism, editorial process. Continue the conversation about involving the public in journalism!

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