By Daniela Gerson: Hyperlocal efforts got an infusion of cash earlier this month, when the neighborhood social network Nextdoor scored $21.6 million from leading venture capitalists. The backers — led by Greylock Partners’ David Sze, who has invested in Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pandora — are betting that the platform for private, geographically based forums will be the next hot thing in local news and information and could even build community in neighborhoods across the country in the process. They’re onto something with the potential to foster community. A long line of research identifies conversation as key to fostering civic dialogue and a sense of belonging. Jurgen Habermas’ theory of the Public Sphere, in which residents come together to discuss the news of the day, is one example. In a more recent one, USC Annenberg Professor Sandra Ball-Rokeach took the concept to a neighborhood level. Through studies of more than a dozen Los Angeles communities, she found that interactions between neighbors — whether online or off — can help increase local civic engagement.
By Matt Pressberg: The shooting at Sandy Hook has brought gun policy to the forefront of our national conversation. President Obama has pledged to act aggressively on the issue, having laid out a comprehensive plan, including new weapons regulations as well as law enforcement and public awareness programs, in the hope of reducing gun violence. This will be a marquee issue in Washington and throughout the country over the next several months, and media coverage will only intensify. With that said, too few journalists have a solid understanding of guns and gun violence. Here are three major things the media gets wrong.
By Gabriel Kahn: The Daily Telegraph's newsroom. | Credit: victoriapeckham/Flickr I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to untangle the mass of conflicting visions about the future of the news industry. But recently I heard a phrase of unusual clarity: “Traditional journalism, as a process, does not scale.” The person who spoke this line was Matt Berger, the director of digital media at Marketplace. What he meant was there is no business model that will support an organization with 100 reporters writing 100 stories (or, as we used to refer to the newsroom, 100 monkeys at 100 typewriters). When you are going up against a World Wide Web that has so much real-time content, it’s almost impossible to gain enough traction to adequately monetize the work of a single soul banging away at a single keyboard. This old model was only possible when information was scarce. And information was scarce because it was delivered on newsprint. (And yes, there are still a few places that can achieve the necessary scale in the digital realm, and we all know who they are.) Of course, there is nothing earth-shattering about this concept. It’s blatantly obvious. And yet, when you stop to consider it, you wonder how anyone who cares about the future of the industry could be thinking about anything else. Or why so many news sites are still swimming upstream by trying to sell ads against work churned out by individual journalists. The implications of this challenge are unsettling. The single “article” & mdash; journalism’s basic unit of commerce & mdash; will only rarely generate enough value to cover its cost of production. (Gulp.) But as I began to consider what scalable journalism meant, I also realized how many conversations I had had recently that were really about addressing this very problem.
By Aaron Chimbel: It's been one semester since we implemented a digital first approach with student media at TCU's Schieffer School of Journalism, where I am a professor and a student media advisor. I detailed our approach here in May. Now it's time to assess our efforts (and no, I'm not going to assign a letter grade). "I feel that we are just on top of everything on campus," said Lexy Cruz, who served as the first executive editor for student media, overseeing all content across platforms. "It's almost like we're just watching the TCU 'trending topics' and reporting for students that like up-to-the-minute information and details. I like giving the audience everything we have when we have it."
By Michael Juliani: The New York Post came under fire Tuesday when it published a front-page image of a man about to get run over by a subway train. The front page had the Post-style sensationalized headline: "Pushed on the subway track, this man is about to die / DOOMED." The photographer was criticized for not helping the man, while the Post offended many with what they deemed to be distasteful editorial treatment of a sensitive image. The question that seemed to hang in the air all week was, "Would you snap a picture or pull the man to safety?." But J. Bryan Lowder took an even broader view in an article on Slate, arguing that perhaps too much attention has been heaped on the photographer and not enough on the public's own detached fascination with images of "almost-death." Lowder suggests that some good could come from such a photo, which "accidental or not, shows us a lot of things we don't like — about mortality, sure, but also about the dismal state of our outdated transit system that is laughable in its lack of modern guard gates, for instance, or our management of New York's mentally ill (and often homeless) population, one of whom is allegedly responsible for the push." It's enough to make you wonder if the Post blew an opportunity to do real journalism by focusing the conversation on social issues from the start — a better headline, still controversial enough for the Post, might have read, "Why Did New York Let This Happen?"
By Larry Pryor: Now that climate topics have been allowed back in the public arena, it’s time for the media to fill some serious gaps in the coverage of climate science. A good place to start would be to explain how computer models work. While a story on the intricacies of algorithms might seem to be a “yawner,” if told from the point of view of a brilliant scientist, complete with compelling graphics, or, better yet, with the immersive technology of new media, stories on climate models could provide ways for non-scientists to evaluate the reliability of these tools as predictors of the future. Equally important, social media and the virtual communities that websites are capable of forming can help to overcome a major barrier to the public’s understanding of risk perception: The tendency of citizens to conform their own beliefs about societal risks from climate change to those that predominate among their peers. This derails rational deliberation, and the herd instinct creates an opening for persuasion — if not deliberate disinformation — by the fossil fuel industry. Online communities can provide a counter-voice to corporations. They are populated by diverse and credible thought leaders who can influence peers to not just accept ideas but to seek out confirming evidence and then take action. Because social networks enable the rapid discovery, highlighting and sharing of information, they can generate instant grassroots activist movements and crowd-sourced demonstrations. Studies show that a major cause of public skepticism over climate stems from ignorance of the reliability of climate models. Beyond their susceptibility to garbage in, garbage out, algorithms on which models are based have long lacked the transparency needed to promote public trust in computer decisions systems. The complexity and politicization of climate science models have made it difficult for the public and decision makers to put faith in them. But studies also show that the media plays a big role in why the public tends to be skeptical of models. An article in the September issue of Nature Climate Change written by Karen Akerlof et al slammed the media for failing to address the science of models and their relevance to political debate: Little information on climate models has appeared in US newspapers over more than a decade. Indeed, we show it is declining relative to climate change. When models do appear, it is often within sceptic discourses. Using a media index from 2007, we find that model projections were frequently portrayed as likely to be inaccurate. Political opinion outlets provided more explanation than many news sources. In other words, blogs and science websites have done a better job of explaining climate science than traditional media, as visitors to RealClimate.org, SkepticalScience.org and other science blogs can attest.
By Pekka Pekkala: For the last two years I have had an opportunity to participate in an ambitious global research project: how journalistic startups are making money in the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom, France and five other countries. The project is called Sustainable Business Models for Journalism. What did we find? First, bad news: there’s no single, easy solution or amazing new business model that solves all the problems that traditional publishing models have. But looking through some of the very grassroots operations around the globe, you find some similarities among the sites. Probably the most comforting lesson from these young and old entrepreneurs is the fact that there’s probably no need for an amazing new business model. Journalism is just going through a transformative period from a monopolistic, high-revenue and low competition model to a highly competitive global marketplace. And the ideas and advice we got from these entrepreneurs was not that much different from the advice you find in traditional business literature, startup manuals or even biographies of successful companies. Here are some general conclusions from the 69 startups we interviewed.