Seeking solutions to the media meltdown
Even as vital Bay Area journalistic institutions seemed to crumble before their eyes, a panel of media reformers at the journalism school at the University of California, Berkeley, sounded almost optimistic Wednesday night. Just a day after the Bay Area News Group, which gobbled up the San Jose Mercury News a year and a half ago, announced that it was heading for another round of staff reductions because of a bad advertising season, there was Luther Jackson, the San Jose Newspaper Guild executive officer, talking about helping the company realize its workers were dedicated to helping the newspapers find innovative ways to market themselves.
“I think what we need more than anything in our newsrooms is a culture of innovation,” he said, explaining that the new Guild was eager to work with management to reposition the paper as a responsive multimedia news organization.
Chris O’Brien, the Mercury News business reporter and mastermind of the Next Newsroom project at Duke University’s school paper (as well as Public Press co-conspirator), likewise noted that the Merc’s staff has been eager to engage in newsroom reforms like those proposed by the paper’s “rethinking” committee. At the moment, though, no one can think of those ideas when it’s unclear how many reporters and editors will be standing a month from now.
Louis Freedberg, director of the California Media Collaborative, announced he is pursuing a venture he’s calling Cal Express — a statewide “strike force” of journalists that could swoop in to cover important public policy stories that fall between the cracks. It’s an exciting idea if it can ever get funded. Freedberg and I talked afterward about setting up a hypothetical collaboration with the Public Press. Our aims seem quite congruous.
Jeanne Carstensen, the managing editor of Salon.com, suggested that her newsroom, though not as big as it was during the dot-com bubble of 2000-2001, was one of the few news organizations that had managed to chart a path toward profitability on the Web. Though most of its 4.4 million monthly readers see the ads, Salon is one of the few publications to take in significant revenues from subscribers, who get to see the site ad-free.
Freedberg’s take: There is no one right solution. New business models and journalistic forms will have to emerge and compete with one another.
“We have to keep thinking and pushing ourselves to come up with a solution,” he said. “It will come out of our collective brainpower.”
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