Sustaining quality journalism: a community conversation

RTM entered the fray of Seattle community conversations about the future of journalism last weekend, with a Green Festival panel entitled Sustaining Quality Journalism in a New Media Ecology. Panelists included former Seattle Times copy editor and past editor of Colors NW Naomi Ishisaka (One America); Common Language Project executive editor Sarah Stuteville; and longtime journalist and community catalyst Stephen Silha (Journalism That Matters). More videos from the panel are posted here.

Confined to a festival time slot of less than 45 minutes, we were nevertheless determined (1) to contextualize our questions and insights among the numerous other future-of-journalism gatherings going on around Seattle these days, and (2) to reserve half of our time for audience discussion and interaction. So we spoke fast, and invited both panelists and audience members to pose questions using a live Twitter feed. I think we all felt like we were setting up future conversations rather than trying to make a complete presentation.

To echo a point Stephen made, we are entering a relatively uncertain period, which will be – or ought to be – more about finding the right questions than finding quick answers. We began from the position of affirming that quality journalism is absolutely essential for our democracy to function, and is much more crucial than many appear to think. At the same time, however, we reflected that discussions about "saving" journalism are incomplete without deep and sustained criticism of the gaps left by much of today's journalism, as practiced in commercial newsrooms.

We also tried to fill a few gaps evident in some other conversations about journalism's future, both in Seattle and elsewhere: consideration of public funding models, marginalized voices and audiences, and the changing relationship between author, editor and what Stephen calls "the group formerly known as audience." We opened our session by projecting onscreen some insights gathered from other recent journalism conversations in Seattle. Here are some excerpts:

"Is it Curtains for Daily Newspapers?"
Culture, Civil Rights, Health, and Personnel Committee, Seattle City Council, 28 Jan. 2009

This panel, convened by Seattle City Councilmember Nick Licata, examined the historic role daily newspapers have played in local civic life, and explored creative ideas for supporting the continued existence of a second daily newspaper in Seattle. One key question: could a new "low-profit" or L3C community owned business model--which allows for-profit companies to accept charitable contributions--help support a vibrant and successful newspaper culture in Seattle?

Panelists: Roger Simpson and Doug Underwood (Univ. of Washington) Anne Bremner (Committee for a Two Newspaper Town), Beth Hester (Seattle Channel), Liz Brown (Pacific NW Newspaper Guild), David Brewster (Crosscut), and Jennifer Towery (Peoria Newspaper’s Guild)

"Seattle as a No-Newspaper Town"
Seattle City Hall, 26 Feb. 09

Insights relayed by Mónica Guzmán (Seatle Post-Intelligencer):

  • It's not about saving newspapers. It's about saving journalism.
  • There may not be one model, but dozens, that support news in the future.
  • This is not a problem of readership. Readership is higher than ever. This is not a problem of content. The content is still valuable. It is a problem of business.
  • It is way past time to stop pointing blame and start solving the problem.

Panelists: Jay Rosen (NYU), Cory Haik (Seattle Times), Kathy Gill (Univ. of Washington), Art Thiel (Seattle P-I),moderated by Dave Ross (KIRO)

"Journalism on the Brink"
Univ.of Washington, 25 Feb. 09

Insights relayed by Hanson Hosein (Univ. of Washington):

This conversation looked at new models to sustain journalism, given that advertising is no longer sufficient. Discussed: Endowments, public foundations, bailouts, tax breaks, and a cable-TV model of charging for a bundle of sources. let s remember, people around the world have never paid for the cost of news. The UW is proposing it could play a role, providing housing, libraries (and access to expensive databases like lexus-nexus), students, and institutional credibility to some ex-P-I journalists who have proposed a Western Investigative Consortium.

Panelists: Cory Haik (Seattle Times), John Cook (TechFlash), Cory Bergman (MSNBC,, Monica Guzman (Seattle P-I), Ross Reynolds (KUOW), moderated by Hanson Hosein (UW)

Finally, here's a collection of the tweets from the panel (in reverse chronological order, or course). We purposefully borrowed the hashtag #newsecology from a Journalism That Matters conference held earlier this year; plans are underway to hold a future JTM in Seattle, and Reclaim the Media will surely be involved. Stay tuned…

jcolman: Online Journos More Optimistic About The Future Of Journalism than Print Peers: #newsecology

DebJKline: 4 #newsecology #greensea #greenfest attendees RT @HuffPolitics HuffPost launching $1.75M investigative journalism fund (expand)

westseattleblog: sorry we didn't get to be part of #newsecology @ greenfest ... just read tweets ... agree with "let's talk about what can be done NOW"

jonathanlawson: Thanks to everyone who joined in the #newsecology panel. Notes, recordings etc will appear at soon.. also future plans

ssilha: #newsecology The fourth estate: w(h)ither?

partnowjess: #newsecology follow Stuteville and the CLP in Pakistan starting next week @commonlanguage. thanks all awesome panelists!

sgleason: Ishisaka: we don't know what we don't know - the critical issues that happen in hidden corners need that investigative pursuit #newsecology

jcolman: Quality Journalism in New Media Ecology: Wrapping up now. @ssilha was inspiring and uplifting! #newsecology #greenfest #greensea

sgleason: Q: if the community wills it so, to have investigative journalism, we can find opportunities for long-form reports in weeklies #newsecology

jcolman: Quality Journalism in New Media Ecology: Is journalism the creator or the evaluator of meaning and value? #newsecology #greenfest #greensea

ssilha: #newsecology what is role of journalist? is it to be evaluator?

jcolman: New Media Ecology: We need a business model that supports investigative journalism, not sensationalism. #newsecology #greenfest #greensea

sgleason: Q: the newspaper is a permanent record of what happened on a particular day; worried about Internet's ability to be perm record #newsecology

ssilha: #newsecology needs to be a business model to support investigative journalism

ssilha: #newsecology Disagreement ... Internet is permanent record ... can see what's going on locally and globally ...

jcolman: Quality Journalism in New Media Ecology: the Internet isn't a permanent record?! #newsecology #greenfest #greensea

ssilha: #newsecology I worry about the lack of permanence on the Internet ...

ssilha: #newsecology how do we empower reporters to press their sources?

jcolman: Attendee expresses frustration about poor local coverage of P-I's demise. #newsecology #greenfest #greensea

sgleason: comments: early standards for community-created tv were low, but have risen over time; same can happen with citizen blogging #newsecology

ssilha: #newsecology TV news covering demise of P-I has been so stupid ... why not talk about what matters as consumers and producers of news?

gregoryheller: R newspapers & media outlets mismanaged & do owners have unrealistic expections of revenue/profit? News shd b public service #newsecology

jcolman: Finally - a brave person takes exception to bloggers as not being "professionals". #newsecology #greenfest #greensea

ssilha: #newsecology don't think we need that much professionalism ... good sources will emerge ... community television in Seattle has improved

jcolman: Quality Journalism in New Media Ecology: Todd Boyle sez that we don't need to recreate old systems online. #newsecology #greenfest #greensea

minkett: swapped out worm bin lecture for Journalism that matters discussion, listening to dialog #newsecology

sgleason: questions from panel small-group discussions: main job is to enable people to organize power, with critical information #newsecology

ssilha: #newsecology intelligent people can find own answers now ... understand the world that's changed! we're all experts in something.

jcolman: Quality Journalism in New Media Ecology: Q&A beginning now. 1st question is not really a question. #newsecology #greenfest #greensea

ssilha: #newsecology how do we enable people to defend themselves against organized power and deception?

partnowjess: hash tags and checking out journalism value maps at Green Fest #newsecology (expand)

jcolman: Quality Journalism in New Media Ecology: oooooh, interactive portion! #newsecology #greenfest #greensea

jcolman: Quality Journalism in New Media: West Seattle Blog at cited as good example. #newsecology #greenfest #greensea

sgleason: Silha: what's also been missing in journalism thinking - the role of media in helping society find the solutions to problems #newsecology

jcolman: Quality Journalism in New Media Ecology: What's the connection between local, global, & "glocal"? #newsecology #greenfest #greensea

jcolman: Quality Journalism in New Media Ecology: a shout-out to information architects! #newsecology #greenfest #greensea

sgleason: Silha: question that's often left out of journalism conversations & coverage -what's possible now in society? #newsecology #greenfest #media

jcolman: Quality Journalism in New Media Ecology: When information doubles, knowledge dwindles. #newsecology #greenfest #greensea

jcolman: Community should be gatekeepers of stories (& their value), not just MSM. #newsecology #greenfest #greensea

jcolman: Quality Journalism in New Media Ecology: Silha showing us a Value Network Graph developed for techies. #newsecology #greenfest #greensea

sgleason: Silha: we've been hosting conversations around the country about the future of journalism #newsecology #greenfest #media

jcolman: Silha says we're not asking the right questions. We should ask, "What's possible now?" #newsecology #greenfest #greensea

gregoryheller: #newsecology shouldn't it b cheaper to do quality news online only? No presses, no paper, no trucks.

sgleason: Stephen Silha of Journalism that Matters up next: #newsecology #greenfest #media

jcolman: Quality Journalism in New Media Ecology: Check out and join now. #newsecology #greenfest #greensea

gregoryheller: Why has daily print media become unsustainable now? Selling dead trees has never paid for it, advertising has... #newsecology

sgleason: #newsecology is hashtag for media/journalism panel at Seattle Green Festival #greenfest #media (was using #thenewecology by mistake

jcolman: Quality Journalism in New Media Ecology: Stephen Silha up w/ Journalism That Matters group. #newsecology #greenfest #greensea

jcolman: "Evidence-supported journalism" should be our goal... i.e., investigative journalism. #newsecology #greenfest #greensea

ssilha: #newsecology Jonathan: These are not new conversations ... in media democracy movement ... media activism in civil rights struggle

ssilha: #newsecology Naomi: What is necessary for our civil society to function?

jcolman: Quality Journalism in New Media Ecology: Ahhhh, #newsecology Twitter feed is up on screen. #newsecology #greenfest #greensea

ssilha: #newsecology Naomi: Evidence-supported journalism should be the goal for the soil that the rest of the media landscape grows from

jcolman: Quality Journalism in New Media Ecology: Yikes... bloggers are *not* professional journalists? #newsecology #greenfest #greensea

ssilha: #newsecology Naomi: are citizen journalists going to take over slog work that professional journalists have always done? doubtful.

jcolman: Quality Journalism in New Media Ecology: Questionable statistics on number of "black blogs" #newsecology #greenfest #greensea

gregoryheller: #newsecology #greenfest nyt&other papers have bigger audiences than ever, still have$$problems.Not issue of shrinking audience. Failed model

jcolman: Quality Journalism in New Media Ecology: Ethnic Media hit harder in this economy than MSM. #newsecology #greenfest #greensea

ssilha: #newsecology Naomi: Ethnic media being hit harder than mainstream media

jcolman: MSM journos talking about how to save journalism kinda like AIG execs talking about how to save economy? #newsecology #greenfest #greensea

ssilha: #newsecology: Sarah says another proposal is government funded journalism!

jcolman: Quality Journalism in New Media Ecology: A lot of journos here, yet no blame placed on failures of MSM. #newsecology #greenfest #greensea

ssilha: #newsecology - a third+ of the people in the room are or have been journalists...

ssilha: #newsecology Sarah: audiences don't think they're important anymore; need to be empowered

jcolman: Quality Journalism in New Media Ecology: Community should have sense of ownership of journalism. #newsecology #greenfest #greensea

ssilha: #newsecology university consortia -- will they work?

jcolman: Quality Journalism in New Media Ecology: is one successful, well-known example. #newsecology #greenfest #greensea

ssilha: #newsecology Sarah Stuteville from Common Language Project ... talking about models: nonprofit, audience, lowprofit

jcolman: Quality Journalism in New Media Ecology: nonprofit or user-sponsored journalism... Is it scalable? #newsecology #greenfest #greensea

jcolman: Quality Journalism in New Media Ecology: Goal isn't to save newspapers - it's to save journalism. #newsecology #greenfest #greensea

jcolman: Quality Journalism in New Media Ecology: Stuteville speaking about the sustainability of local journalism. #newsecology #greenfest #greensea

jcolman: Quality Journalism in New Media Ecology: Ugh... This moderator is *reading* his opening presentation. #newsecology #greenfest #greensea

newsomatic: RT @ReclaimTheMedia Time to seriously consider govt subsidies for essential journalism: (expand) #newsecology

jcolman: Quality Journalism in New Media Ecology: Check out #newsecology #greenfest #greensea

jcolman: Reporting from Seattle Green Festival: hash-tag for "New Media Ecology" session is #newsecology #greenfest #greensea

ReclaimTheMedia: Time to seriously consider govt subsidies for essential journalism: (expand) #newsecology

jonathanlawson: Non-profit newspapers? Some complicating implications: (expand) #newsecology

jonathanlawson: Former P-I staffers hope to launch new journalism sites: (expand) #newsecology

jonathanlawson: : GF panel at 1 today: Sustaining Quality Journalism in the New Media Ecology #newsecology

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey