Help design the “New Media” news model

About five years ago, when I initially left my job in TV news, I commented that the future of news was a person getting a phone call from a producer at an Internet news site who tells her that there’s been a plane crash outside her window and would she hook her camera up to her computer, point the camera at the crash and describe what she sees. I thought this might take fifteen or twenty years, not five or ten.

The news media are being shaken right down to the taproot…viewers/readers are embracing the Internet and in order to survive, newspapers and television news are trying to transition to web-based content in an effort to keep their audience. Citizen journalists and user generated content/UGC are the buzzwords of the transition. The concern of traditional journalists is that with no oversight, the tradition of unbiased news may be in danger. Citizens who want to define news their way may not present their content from a neutral standpoint…and this will affect the audience, which will suffer because without balanced information it will be unable to make informed decisions…the decisions will be skewed by the information they don’t have as much as what they do have.

I’ve been dreaming up my own model of what the new media news model might look like – allowing for UGC and audience interaction. I’d like you to take a look and add your comments…between you, me, and the lamppost we may be able to create a foundation for the future of news.

Let me define the potential problem areas and then discuss how they might be countered.
First issue with UGC is how much the user determines what news is/will be. There should always be balance between what people want to see and what they need to know in order to be responsible citizens.
Next, what filters will there be to ensure the news is factual and unbiased. This includes both information and video/visuals.
I’m sure you have ideas about what other potential issues there might be – please chime in with your thoughts.

Let’s go back to the original comments at the top of the page – there will always have to be a news central/news room/control room that recieves and then transmits the news. This control room would take all incoming calls (IMs, emails, etc) on events in their region or country. Once the content and visuals were confirmed as valid, the “story” would be posted according to story type (breaking news, gneral news, feature, sports) and by location. A running tab would keep track of what the audience was watching…allowing the producer to request further information/video or possible send a local crew out to cover the situation. At the same time, there would be related sites tailored to specific audiences with different news mixes. The site might even allow a viewer to specify the types of news or stories they want, with the result a mix of stories tailored to the individual.

The key here are the producers – the filtering journalists. The news site would have requirements for submission posted, including contact information….which would detail what requirements a citizen journalist would need to meet in order for their material to be considered. This might include names and contact information for interview subjects, references, names/contact numbers of local authories with law enforcement or other government organizations who could confirm facts. CJs would need to sign an agreement that their material met a list of critera.

There might still be a need for news crews – more than likely videojournalists – who would travel with a laptop and camera kit, ready to respond to big stories in their region. Without the face of a reporter, news would again become all about the story…the people involved…the event…and not the reporter or anchors.

Regional websites make more sense than a national site…small enough to serve individual communities but large enough to support themselves. Speaking of which…yes, there will have to be advertising or membership subscriptions for certain levels of news. Basic news – what happened – should always be free. Individually tailored shows might be subscription.

I know at a gut level there will be the celebrity sites…the conspiracy sites…the special interest sites, each with their own slant on what they see as news. I believe that in order for people to govern themselves, they must be informed in order to make decisions…and getting that information without bias in critical.

I wait for your ideas and comments…and I’ll add in my own as we go along and you stir things up. In a few weeks or a month I’ll try to pull it all together and repost it in some semblance of order.

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TV News – a phoenix rising or falling?

Just opened an email from a rookie TV videojournalist – his job went up in smoke this past Friday (1/26/07). Santa Rosa television station KFTY has cancelled its two evening news shows and laid off the thirteen staffers who worked on them, according to the Press Demoncrat.

My young friend was grateful for his time on staff (it was his first broadcast news job) and said he’d learned a lot about how fast broadcasting is changing.

The drastic changes echo those taking place in news and media organizations around the country. They are swept by the Internet and related technologies that have revolutionized how people select and exchange news, a process formerly directed largely by staffs at TV and radio stations, newspapers and magazines. (Press Demoncrat 1/27/07)

Adaptation is the name of the game…and I’m sure that VJ’s and other journalists will adapt and find new ways to ensure that what goes out as news adheres to journalistic standards of ethics and neutrality. My hope is that this is not just another case of pandering to the public in an attempt to keep viewers. According to station manager, John Burgess,

“In my opinion, we’re all looking at better ways of truly touching our customers and I think for the television industry, if you’re not engaging your viewers and Web site users in two way-interactivity, you’re not going to be growing, especially over the next three to 10 years.” (Press Democrat 1/27/07)

Plans include a public affairs program, viewer-generated video, and use of “citizen journalists.”

My heart goes out to the staff…I went through a similar situation in 1980 when KQED in San Francisco laid off its entire news staff for the “Evening Edition” and replaced it with a yoga show. In our case it was gut-wrenching, but we all moved on to other jobs in broadcasting. Those who lost their jobs Friday may move on…but will have to keep looking over their shoulders, waiting for the ax to fall again.

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