Back in 2006, I was on a panel at a Nieman Foundation gathering at Harvard. I was flattered and excited because Nieman, because Harvard and because I was included. The topic was the changing nature of journalism — what else? — and the digital revolution. I was there because of our newspaper’s effort to create an online town square.
Seems like 100 years ago, doesn’t it?
There were four of us on the panel — me, a New York Times reporter, a prominent journalism academic, and Sylvia Poggioli, a CNN correspondent. (She’s the only one whose name I remember.) Without a doubt, I was the least prominent person there. And I didn’t want to screw up or, worse, say something dumb.
I was by far the most “radical” in terms of what I thought the business needed to do digitally. I talked about all the things people I respected taught me: going to where people gathers; readers knowing more than me; engaging with readers and listening to what they wanted; etc. I was asked if editors read reporter blog posts before they were published. I said no, that we trusted our reporters to know what they were doing. A reporter with the Atlanta Constitution said, “I imagine your legal department doesn’t like that.” I said, “Well, since we don’t have a legal department….” and everyone laughed.
When it was over, I was feeling pretty good. I thanked my fellow panelists and mingled with the crowd. I found the Constitution reporter and apologized for being a smart aleck; she said she was going to lobby her editors for the same freedom.
I drifted toward the elevator, thinking that I’d held my own, said some smart things, and maybe even made people think. I should do this more often, I thought.
When the elevator opened, Poggioli was standing there. I smiled and said, “That was a fun panel.”
She responded, “Oh, were you there?”
Yeah, maybe I won’t take my act on the road.