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Posted: October 29, 2005 10:19 PM
Back to the future: Look ahead
gets bogged down by bashing

By April Chan
ONA Convention Online Staff

jeff jarvis
Jeff Jarvis.
From left: Lockhart Steele, Jeff Jarvis and Susan DeFife.

Try as he might, Jeff Jarvis couldn’t quite keep what he called the “dinosaur-bashing” and the “blogger-bashing” from rearing their respectively ugly heads at Saturday afternoon’s “Journalism 2010: Who’s leading the way?” panel discussion.

Though the former mainstream journalist-turned-blogger had hoped the discussion would focus on what online journalism has to look forward to in five years, some in attendance – including panelist Robert Cauthorn, who is president of CityTools – couldn’t help but take a few swipes at the established media – the dinosaur.

The New York Times took the brunt of his ire. Cauthorn said the well-respected company has made a fatal mistake in merging its print and online operations. It was a coupling of the most creative members of the organization with the least creative, he said. And that can’t be good in helping to foster innovation. “The New York Times is wrong in almost everything it is doing right now,” Cauthorn said.

In criticizing the decisions of predominantly older print editors, he said, “The more senior you are … the more likely it is you’re wrong.”

The discussion volleyed back and forth as audience members fired questions at the panel about journalism standards such as accuracy and fact-checking, and whether blogs serve to polarize readers by making it easier for them to simply visit Web sites they like and agree with.

Panelist Lockhart Steele, who is managing editor of Gawker Media, said his company believes readers have much more diverse tastes than generally assumed.

“Trust the community,” said panelist Susan DeFife, president and CEO of Backfence.com, a portal originating in the Washington, D.C., metro area that employs the services of citizen journalists.

The content is not always accurate, she said. But her company relies on the community that is consuming this service to right the wrongs. “It creates less likelihood things on the site are going to be bad.”

Some took exception to the distinction made between citizen journalists and mainstream journalists. Andrea Panciera, editor of Projo.com, the Web site of The Providence Journal in Rhode Island, at times could not keep the emotion from her voice as she said, “We’re trying to do the same thing … we are all citizen journalists.”

But like a real-life recreation of the self-correcting process that DeFife identified as the backbone of many interactive media projects, Jarvis, with the help of audience members, got the discussion back on track.

Robert Niles, editor of the Online Journalism Review, warned newsroom managers that they have to support staffers – and interns, for that matter – with the space, time and money to play with new ideas and develop them. “Or they will become your competitors,” he said.

Product expert and blogger Susan Mernit challenged the journalists in attendance to balance their authority with the authority of their audience.

Other audience members predicted that more innovative work with databases, games and open-source software will continue to help online journalism evolve.

As for ONA’s role in helping to foster these kinds of discussion, panelist Neil Budde, news director at Yahoo, said he enjoyed the back and forth discussion and looked forward to more interactive sessions.

About this site

News on the 2005 conference is produced by the Online News Association Student Newsroom, which is supported by grants from the Scripps Howard Foundation, National Association of Black Journalists, and CBSNews.com.

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