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January 4, 2005

Open Source Journalism Comes a Step Closer in Greensboro: A Plan is Shown

Open and free archive. Bloggers at editorial meetings. Long tail ad network. New "always link" policy. Obits as a blog. Those are some of Lex Alexander's ideas for the Greensboro News & Record as it moves a step further into blogging, citizen journalism and the site as public square. The highlights...

A much awaited document was released today. It’s Lex Alexander’s report to News & Record editor John Robinson on citizen journalism directions for the Greensboro newspaper and its revamped site. (Greensboro background is here and here.)

The report is a change document. It has a short argument attached to a series of suggestions, some more developed than others. A good number of Alexander’s recommendations are modest and easy to do; others require practical invention. A few are far-reaching or call for such changes in policy as to be revolutionary for the world. Lex writes:

Our audience is moving from print to online, and some of the wealthier and better-educated people among our audience are leading the charge and taking ad revenue with them. If we are to survive as a business dedicated to producing quality local news, information and dialogue, we need to move, too— with people and resources.

But that means more than just re-creating the print product online. It means understanding the culture of the Internet, and of blogging in particular, and understanding how we can work on and with the Internet (i.e., with users of that medium) to expand the quantity and quality of the local news, information and dialogue we provide.

Alexander’s ideas for the News & Record come in three areas.

1.) More blog-style journalism done by the News & Record staff. This is not exactly a surprise, since it was the blogging boss who asked the blogger Lex to compile the report.

2.) More participatory or open source journalism where readers or “affiliated” bloggers from the community are the knowledge engine or the agenda setter.

3.) A new and strikingly different Web philosophy for, stressing open standards, transparency, interaction, dialogue, linking widely— in a word, a different kind of site. Including a permanent, free archive, in itself a mini-revolution if enacted.

Robinson said at his blog: “No big announcements to make about it yet; we’re still ingesting.” (Update here.)

Some of the highlights of the recommendations:

Many of these recommendations the News & Record received online and in public after soliciting comment at its own blogs and in the blog world generally. I am one of those who pushed for the open and free archive, the “always link” policy, the staff bios. And I am pleased to see them included. Many other people will find their suggestions in there. That’s part of what makes it open source.

What I did not find in this plan (but maybe it will come later) is the kind of online community-building my nephew Zack Rosen, founder of Civic Space Labs, recommended in this post. Lex says in comments that he simply didn’t have time to think that part of it through. (See this site, built with Civic Space Labs tools.)

In fact, a “community” and a “public square” are not the same thing— and may be in tension. The public square is the place where people from many communities can mix, gather— and potentially debate things. Maybe a newspaper site can be both. But let’s not elide this distinction; it could be useful.

“When the Web was born as a commercial content enterprise back in the mid-’90s, we thought it was about replicating—that is, ‘repurposing’—our news and information franchises online,” said Tom Curley, CEO of the Associated Press, in the big speech I have been quoting like crazy lately.

Alexander’s report is very clear about what it means to abandon the “re-purposing” legacy. “It means understanding the culture of the Internet.” If you start there, then of course the site needs to “link out” a lot; and it becomes part of journalism ethics to do so. A smart newsroom will quickly absorb the ethic of linking, once the cultural adjustment is made.

It’s taken a long time for daily newspaper people to get there, but it seems to me that Greensboro has arrived at the crossover. It is ready to become an Internet newspaper with a print edition, rather than an old-style newspaper re-purposing its content online.

“It’s 2005 and a lot of what people were saying in 1994 and 1995 is slowly but surely unrolling around us.” That’s what Scott Rosenberg, managing editor of, just said in the comments to a prior, Tom Curley post. Rosenberg thinks back ten years:

At the time most newspapers made the choice to “repurpose” their “existing content” onto the Web—… hauling the “dreary old newspaper commentary section online”—the blogosphere as we know it today really didn’t exist. It was ‘96 or ‘97 and every newspaper boardroom was beginning to think about how to cash in on dotcom mania. After the bubble burst these people for the most part buried their heads in the sand and decided that the Web was over and they didn’t have to worry about it any more. So the rise of citizen journalism and blogs has really caught much of the “legacy media” doubly asleep.

In Greensboro we find a newspaper awakening to the culture of the Web.

UPDATE (Jan. 5): Dan Kennedy, media critic of the Boston Phoenix (the alt weekly there) is a skeptic. He says in comments:

The Greensboro experiment sounds like an interesting idea that a few people will love, but that the overwhelming majority will find makes their paper too much work to bother with. The whole idea of an edited newspaper is that a reader can sit down with it for, say, a half-hour and get some sort of comprehensive overview of what’s going on in her community. This is achieved as much by what’s left out as by what’s put in. It can be done well or it can be done badly, but that’s the mission.

I’m not sure that I’d work for a place that forced me to post my political and religious affiliations. You’re asking journalists to give up a lot of privacy for the privilege of working long hours for little pay.

My reaction is here.

UPDATE II (Jan. 8): N & R Editor John Robinson announces at his blog: “Lex Alexander will begin designing and building our new Web presence fulltime following the open source journalism model.”

His report was comprehensive, and we want to do much of it. We asked him to focus first on bringing down the artificial barriers separating the newspaper from readers. His initial efforts will be to develop interactivity, forums, communities of place and of interest. He’s going to help us develop more staff and reader blogs, and bring on more citizen content, stories and photos. We’re looking at many other sites to learn. I like the OhMyNews model. We’ll see.

We’re also exploring ways the newspaper and the online world can complement each other, feeding content to each other and playing to the strengths of each.

Read the rest. Ed Cone, reacting, says Alexander “earned himself one of the plum jobs in the newspaper business this year — anywhere, at any paper.”

After Matter: Notes, Reactions and Links.

The News & Record is owned by Landmark Communications. So is the Virginian-Pilot (a bigger paper) in Norfolk. Kerry Sipe of the Pilot has a weblog, News Without Paper, where he calls the Lex Alexander plan “nothing less than revolutionary for an old-media newsroom.” Then the part I was waiting for: “I’d love to see this report become the catalyst for a open discussion of new media in The Pilot’s newsroom.” That’s how it happens.

Awakening to the culture of the Web? Nice phrase, but could you, like, give an example? News & Record editor John Robinson joins the local Greensboro Weblogger Meetup Group. I will say it again: What is happening in Greensboro is national news and deserves to be covered as such.

Robinson at his blog: “We’re in the process of determining what our technology will allow, what our staffing will allow, and what we want to do first. We will be ambitious.”

Daniel Weintraub of the Sacramento Bee and its California Insider blog has a two word review of the “Greensboro proposal to turn the local newspaper into what sounds like a blogpaper.” He calls it: “Intriguing stuff.”

“It’s not just the N&R,” says Ed Cone: “The paper is feeding off of, and feeding into, a broader movement that includes personal publishing and politics. Suddenly, blogging is taking off among our elected officials — our mayor pro tem has a blog, another City Council member has made a public promise to start soon, and another is actively testing the medium in private. Our Register of Deeds is blogging.” Hmmm.

Greensboro blogger tries to blog, live, a city council meeting. “I find that attempting to write about events as they happen is an ineffective way to add to blog,” writes Dave Hoggard. “I can’t concentrate on what is being said, nor can I concentrate on what I am trying to say.”

Blogger and PressThink contributor Weldon Berger on the significance of the open, free, and digitized archive proposed for the News & Record: “The lack of an institutional memory—even a short-term one—is among the things I find most frustrating about the press.”

The blog newspaper is here! Or at least a glimpse of one. PressThink reader John Zeratsky points us to the Badger Herald, an independent student publication in Madison, WI, which re-designed its site around Movable Type software, turning each of the main sections—news, sports, arts, commentary—into a blog, and introducing all the content off the blog. Section editors run their sections by running their blogs. John tells about creating a newspaper site with blog-like qualities, and using MT software, here. And dig into the site. It’s… interesting.

Read Dan Gillmor on Distributed Journalism’s Future.

“It’s no surprise that many editors of newspaper Web sites are looking at how to effectively integrate blogs into their content offerings — and how to capitalize on the readership outside blogs often send to articles and features posted on newspaper sites.” Editor & Publisher, Jan. 5.

Wendy Hoke, a Cleveland writer, at Creative Ink: Where are the Newsblogs? Her plea to get with it.

General Motors has started a Blog, FastLane, where Bob Lutz, Vice Chairman at GM will sometimes appear. For some reason PressThink made it into “blogs we like,” and it’s generating quite a bit of traffic. “After years of reading and reacting to the automotive press,” Lutz writes. “I finally get to put the shoe on the other foot.”

Greensboro blogger gatecity:

I also prefer my “news” to come from a true media outlet. While some blogs are newsworthy and have merit (Cone, Hoggard, etc.) others come across as just rumours and opinion. I feel that there has to be some sort of central control or governor in the form of an editor. That’s just me, however.

But it is not just him. In the blogging era of journalism, what’s the reputation system?

Another local aggregator: Pittsburgh Webloggers. “”Serving as a compendium of all writers, narrators, blogs, and commentators in the greater Pittsburgh area.” Less fully developed is, in St. Louis, which has a blog and wants to have a magazine.

Walter Shapiro, fomer national political columnist for USA Today, is quoted:

“We may look back 10 years from now and say this is when print media hit its tipping point. I’m a newspaper junkie, I wrote a newspaper column, but at least twice a week now, because I go online and check news sites, I leave the house without having read the paper. A year ago, the idea that I could leave the house without reading three newspapers would have been unfathomable to me.”

The Tsunami Video Hosting Initiative is a public service offered by Media Bloggers Association, of which I am a member, in partnership with Zubr Communications. The Initiative was launched in response to concerns over bandwidth issues facing bloggers doing a tremendous public service by providing video of the tsunami to the world. The Initiatve is a “distributed content-broker” system that matches web hosts willing to donate server space and bandwidth with bloggers and other Tsunami video sources needing to defray their cost of hosting Tsunami video. Go here to find out more.

If you are a Web host and can donate server space and bandwidth, email PressThink, please.

Posted by Jay Rosen at January 4, 2005 6:07 PM