Journalists, this is your time

I had the honor of speaking to the interns at Reese News Lab on Monday. Here is what I prepared to say. Naturally, as with all of my preparations for speaking engagements, I said some of this and went in other directions.

I’m a learner. Above everything else — my editing job, my journalism, my teaching — I classify myself as a learner. When someone asks you what you’re going to do when you graduate, tell them you’re going to be a learner. It’s more interesting and it’s different.

I’ve been asked to talk about where we are and where we’re headed. Feel free to interrupt. I believe in what Dan Gillmor said: “My readers know more than I do.” In this case, you guys.

Where are we?

Draw a timeline & list when each was “invented:” Press (1440), newspapers (1600), magazine (1730), radio (1900), TV (1930s), Internet (1960s but really 1990s with WWW), Facebook (2004), Twitter (2006).

What is your observation? (Getting shorter and shorter between each development).

* What is the population of the U.S.? 316 million

* How many people watch network news combined? 22 million

* How many read a paper daily? 23% but let’s be generous and say only half are lying — 31 million

With the advance of Pandora, Sirius, Spotify and now Google, many people think AM/FM radio will be dead in five to 10 years.

Where do you get your news? Twitter is the new AP. My publisher was at a dinner party and the woman sitting next to him said that she didn’t get the newspaper. “Where do you get your news?” he asked.
“Facebook,” she replied.

And you all know that that is exactly right.

I’m glad you’re all here this summer. The best journalists like to identify and work on problems. They are entrepreneurial. If you don’t want to do that, become a funeral director or accountant. Not exciting but there’s always business.

Before we talk about where we’re going, the core principles of journalism ain’t going anywhere:

* 1st obligation is to the truth

* 1st loyalty is to the public

* Essence is the discipline of verification

Where are we going?

First thing to know: People won’t adapt their behavior to you anymore. You must adapt your content and delivery system to them.

Tell the Clay Christensen milkshake story

The lesson is to find the job that needs to be done. Tell the story of the guy in Boston who saw a job that needed to be done — covering high school sports — and he did it. On his own. Now it is under the umbrella of He found a job that needed to be done and had the courage and perseverance to do it.

And, of course, there’s, which wasn’t making any money until Facebook Google bought it for a couple billion dollars.

The other day on Facebook, I complained about trying to get my Time-Warner cable cut off. Dozens of commenters came on, all hating on TW. A smart person I know said, there’s a business opportunity there. Be a go-to person for TW customers.

I made the same complaint on Twitter, director to the Time-Warner account. The TW service twitter feed apologized, but didn’t offer any help.

There is clearly a job that needs to be done there.

Second thing to knowJournalism is not a product; too many people think that it is. In fact, it’s a service to be delivered. It is something that the journalist does for people for his/her community…and that the community appreciates enough to pay for. (Bill Mitchell uses the Oklahoma tornado to remind us once again of the importance of journalism as a service.)

Third thing to know: Dave Winer says that people want to participate and contribute. We saw that with Boston Marathon. Andy Carvin of NPR did, too. That’s important to understand as journalism goes forward. There is opportunity there.

The future — present really — is about community and relationships and connections.

Community is geographic and topic-based. It’s where we live and it’s subjects we’re interested in. Every journalist wants people to trust him or her. The success of FB should show the importance of relationships.

You know what makes a video go viral? Why a silly video of cats playing the piano or of one kid biting his older brother’s finger get millions of views? It’s not informative. They have emotional appeal. They connect people. How can you tap into that?

Could you build a curated site without walls. Online, everyone is equal with an equal voice. Your power lies in your connections.  If my whole life were ahead of me, that’s what I’d explore.

Things to watch and think about


SENSOR JOURNALISM — Citizen-generated data. How do you find out how clean the air is in your dorm? How clean the water is at the drinking fountains? Or how clean the food is at the produce section of the grocery store? How bad the pollen is here?

SNOPES for news: Christensen said: “I’m awash in information, but I need someone who will tell me what is true, and it’s not clear that anyone has really done that job yet.”

BANYAN PROJECT — Built around idea of food coops or credit unions, where the community owns the news org. Led professionally, governed democratically by directors.

CROWDFUNDING — Kickstarter. Spotus. Have a good idea? Ask for help.

LONGFORM — Time spent with newspaper and TV. Importance of high-quality content. Chartbeat — also yields better ad performance. Longreads. Slow journalism.

MOBILE — is it. You must “go to where this people are gathering.” Instead, newspapers are building walls around their content and their mobile offerings are deficient. There is huge opportunity.

GOOGLE GLASS — If I were your age, I’d spend a lot of time in this space, figuring out how journalism works with Project Glass.

What else would I do if I were you?

* Buy the url with my name. Your brand is everything. Who you are and what you represent are what you have. Protect it, build it and own it. Be smart, be kind and be personal.

* Keep learning — Make sure you follow interesting people on Twitter. Make sure you listen to what people are talking about on FB. Ask them questions.

* Keep up — try out the new things

* Explore what people are interested in. Right now, I’d be looking at privacy, technology, social networks and community, and government.

* Create journalism that matters. Take risks and don’t be afraid to fail. We all do.

You know who Marconi was? Philo T. Farnsworth? Marc Andreesen? Jobs? Zuckerburg? Gates? One thing they have in common? All between 20-23 when made first big invention.

This is your time.

2 thoughts on “Journalists, this is your time

    • I’m an idiot. As I said, my readers know more than I do. Thanks.

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