Attorney Tom Kelley chairs a citizens group called the Colorado Freedom of Information Council. Along with coalition partners like the Bar Association, League of Women Voters and Common Cause, Kelley said, “we act as aggressively in keeping after government as possible.” While Kelley’s coalition is not a press organization, they do provide FOI resources and put together occasional free events.
Last night, Kelley introduced a public forum hosted by Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver and attended by over 50 people. The event featured Denver Post editor Greg Moore, Knight Digital Media Center fellow Wendy Norris, University of Denver journalism and new media professor Adrienne Russell, Ari Armstrong a blogger and Dominic Graziano, a journalism student.
Moderator Kelley spoke longer than expected at the beginning about a sense of public service in the media community, news media challenged by competitors without production or distribution costs and the possibility of support through public or nonprofit funding. He expressed concern about the implications of partisan commentators gaining ever-larger audiences, moving toward comment without content. Namely he is worried about corruption going unexposed.
Ari Armstrong was invited to speak first. He said, “there has never been a better time to be a consumer of news. At the click of a button, you can read the best journalism in the world.” He also took the opportunity to rattle off a list of personal reporting accomplishments as evidence that independent research is being done by bloggers.
Adrienne Russell agreed with Armstrong that the blogosphere does originate stories. She also said new media technology is creating new applications for participation and thinks there is a link between the future of journalism and its role as a public service. She mentioned a Pew report saying web traffic on top sites went up 27% from 2007 to 2008. She addressed young and old in the crowd, imploring, “Keep paying attention to innovators!”
Before handing the microphone over again, Kelley brought up the way that Supreme Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s quotes were carried out of context by opponent bloggers and then the mainstream media leading up to the confirmation vote in the Senate. [This is very much the same thing that has happened with ACORN. As soon as right-wing activists and politicians accused ACORN of voter fraud, the facts didn’t matter because now news organizations include “accusations of voter fraud” in almost every story about the group.]
Dominic Graziano fears for the inability to “pay somebody to do a good job.” He said students are told if they are not the best they can’t get a job. “Salary possibilities declining means less professionals. Decent investigative journalism can be found on the Internet, but where will the money come from? Bloggers don’t get corporate sponsorship.” Later in the question answer session, he tried to shift tone when a high school student asked him, “So what you want is a job that pays good money, right?”
Wendy Norris opened by saying, “there is a crisis in the nation around critical thinking. People are willing to believe whatever is delivered to them.” She stated, rather bravely I thought, that the First Amendment comes with responsibilities in addition to rights. A big problem she identified is when ethics come up against consumer demand. At her old paper, tweeting a funeral got more hits than reporting on an ethics commission, for example.
Greg Moore said, “I don’t believe we’re in a post-journalism era or will ever be. There’s always stuff happening. We are entering a post-fact era.” Asked how public trust can be rebuilt in the media, Moore was not optimistic, saying media is always vilified and you can’t please everyone. Another speaker implored the panel to “get the true facts about Palestine out there.” She complained, “coverage is very distorted.” Moore, who leads the Denver Post news department said, “I’m relying on LA Times, NY Times, WA Post… it’s not that easy.”
He said in the next 5 to 10 years newspapers will still be around. The notion of being a paper of record is less important, but people want Obama won or their kid scored touchdowns in original newsprint more than a print out from the web. He says Denver Post will eventually come out less often and cost more. Journalism will have to shift models. He confirmed web readership is rising, but conceded it is hard to monetize the web. “An ad online only brings 10% of print revenue,” he said.
Moore said he was really surprised so many people came to the forum. I thought it was a great discussion, but Kelley did not seem in charge of the production, as evidenced by the well-meaning but disturbed “Young Man from Memphis” who was allowed to control the podium for nearly 15 minutes toward the end of the night. Maybe next time Kelley can make opening remarks and have someone else manage the question answer session.