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The Public Press Blog

Cutbacks cause controversy at Contra Costa Times

The union representing employees with Dean Singleton’s Bay Area News Group are alleging staff cuts were retaliatory, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

The Northern California Media Workers Guild filed a grievance with the National Labor Relations Board, concerned that the 13 percent staff reductions at the Contra Costa Times targeted union organizers.

The layoffs came two weeks after staff voted in favor of union representation at the Contra Costa Times, and includes several strong proponents of unionizing the Times’ 225 eligible employees.

Spot Us Reporting - A Collaboration With the Public Press

A quick and belated blog post to announce that  Spot Us, a nonprofit that will pioneer "community funded reporting," will be working with the Public Press to help finance local enterprise reporting here in San Francisco.

Spot Us has received a grant from the Knight Foundation to take it from idea-to-production mode ASAP. (read more)

I've spoken with Michael Stoll about the concept. Indeed, he has been instrumental in helping me conceive of ways to design the platform to best aid and abet local enterprise reporting.

If you go to the Web site (www.spot.us) you can leave your e-mail so that you will be informed when we launch. There you can also learn more about how the project will work.

I am available to discuss the details as well. Feel free to contact me. I am particularly keen to hear from local freelance reporters. My goal is to get you paid to do what you do best: report on important issues. Michael and I are very open to collaboration -- so it isn't an affront to the Public Press at all. In fact, as I see it, and I believe Michael feels the same, Spot Us is a tool that the Public Press can use. 

Turning advertising against itself

In the broad range of organizations that question the expanding role of marketing in public life, a group called the Anti-Advertising Agency Foundation For Freedom stands among the most ardently opposed to the traditional but uneasy co-existence of advertising and the editorial craft.

But the AAAFFF is the only one we know of that is willing to pay advertisers not to ply their trade, through an award that offers "creative freedom" and a "giant check." So says the press release:

CHICAGO -- The most creative and forward-thinking professionals of our time work in marketing. The Anti-Advertising Agency Foundation For Freedom wants them to quit. And they're offering cash.

The AAAFFF was organized by Steve Lambert and Anne Elizabeth Moore, both of whom have much to say about the world of marketing -- some of it tongue-in-cheek, some quite serious.

Their work to eliminate advertising in  grocery stores across the country and bus stops in Oakland has garnered national attention. Which, presumably, is the point. The group aims to question the role of advertising in public space "through constructive parody and gentle humor."

"Our work will de-normalize 'out-of-home' advertising and increase awareness of the public’s power to contribute to a more democratically-based outdoor environment," says its mission statement.

The contest might not solve the great debate, but it’s a start to rid the streets and cyberspace of mental clutter. The contest aims to do this one person at a time. Providing "tips, training, and networking opportunities" and the Anti-Advertising Agency says that it has known "you've always wanted to devote yourself solely to those pursuits."

On May 9, Moore updated readers on the progress of the Foundation For Freedom contest with some excerpts from respondents. This one in particular spoke to the goals of the Public Press project, in creating a culture of unmediated and civic-minded journalism:

I have worked for the past 4 years (since I graduated from a very prestigious culinary school) doing R&D for a food manufacturer ... Boy, throwing away 5,000 pre-packaged hamburger buns when they don't get used is even more egregious when you wake up to CNN telling you that people are rioting in Haiti and Egypt because they can't afford a loaf of bread. Poor people are so silly. I'm all ready to quit my job so that I can devote my time to the theatre which is my true love ... -- Midwestern Ad Man

Lambert's resumeof art projects and published work is thought-provoking, as is Moore's work with independent publishing. Neither is primarily focused on journalism, but their efforts to get a consumerism-drenched culture to consider alternatives is inspiring.

Desperate times call for innovation

It's the same old song, second verse: The old ways of paying for quality journalism are slowly dying and will continue to decline until a new model that works has been created. Though what the best news model looks like is always up for discussion.

American Journalism Review's senior editor, Carl Sessions Stepp, wrote a bulleted list of ways to succeed with the new newspaper. "Maybe it Is Time to Panic," Stepp says.

A few highlights:

  • Make it better not worse
  • Make it astonishingly, irresistibly better
  • Make it easier, not harder, to use and enjoy
  • Involve everyone from school kids to staff members to senior subscribers in the ultimate group science project of creating the greatest news outlets imaginable

Hey, he's singing our song!

Nonprofit and noncommercial journalism dovetail nicely with the outline Stepp provides. Like the other leading journalism publications, Columbia Journalism Review and Quill, AJR has long been hunting for solutions to the business-model mess. In 2004 Stepp spent some time at the St. Petersburg Times (owned by the nonprofit Poynter Institute) and NPR, and wrote in a forward-thinking piece titled, "Journalism Without Profit Margins," that the staff working in nonprofit newsrooms seem to have an enhanced "shared ethic and enthusiasm" to make the product the best it can be. In that piece, Stepp wrote:

My own observation, based on years of working in, visiting and studying news operations, is that noncommercial journalists have no monopoly on commitment or quality. Large media corporations have the resources and clout for in-depth coverage, investigations and enterprise. No matter who pays their salaries, journalists tend by tribal habit to be aggressive, competitive and mindful of public service.

Yet in visiting less-commercial newsrooms and interviewing their journalists, I was struck by the palpable sense of relief and liberation, the exhilaration of professional autonomy.

When journalists feel in control, audiences gain something extra and special: news, analysis and opinion tailored to community and civic needs by professionals who care deeply.

Following up on these observations by writing a laundry list of ways to improve newspapers is a start. But the time to implement new ideas is now. Let's hope that "panic" is only the first emotional response to dealing with this crisis, not the last.

Whither the Sunday Chronicle?

In the midst of a year that has seen a truly existential crisis for print journalism, it's instructive to ask ourselves just what kind of paper product newspapers are selling these days. The photo above is what landed on my front stoop last Sunday. Inside the advertising bag was a free sample of what's reputed to be some of the most absorbent pulp money can buy ... plus the San Francisco Chronicle.

When the going gets tough ... use J-students to report?

The Boston Globe is the latest Top 30 newspaper to use alternative methods to gathering news. For the Sunday Globe it was eight journalism graduate students from Northeastern University for a Page One piece "advocating for senior citizens."

Silicon Valley conclave to draw innovators

The Public Press will make a prominent showing at the Journalism That Matters conference at the headquarters of Yahoo Inc. at the end of the month.

More than 150 high-tech and media pioneers from a range of industries are meeting for a “concept/design mashup” as part of a nationwide conversation — one aimed at making media reform tangible by creating new products and services that support the core social missions of journalism.

New journalism business models

Media reformers across the country have long complained that the current print media paradigm is in need of an overhaul. The Public Press concept is one effort to make up for inadequacies in the business model that has, until recently, supported robust print journalism. Approaching those new -- and as yet unknown -- business models has become a growing topic for debate. One illuminating sign was the publication late last month of the annual State of the News Media report by the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

The Public Press on Marin community radio

Bit by bit, the Public Press project is getting noticed.

I just got off the air from an hourlong interview with Jonathan Rowe, host of the talk show "America Offline" on KWMR, the community radio station in West Marin County.

Gaps in Bay Area coverage

Though the Public Press team is looking to construct a local news organization that’s innovative in its business model, production, design, financing, management, technology and distribution, the raison detre of this exercise is to cover stories that traditionally have been ignored in the press. This is the fun part: pushing the boundaries of what professional journalists have considered “news.”

What topics are left by the wayside? They include stories that lack a special appeal to so-called quality readers -- the wealthy elite sought by high-end advertisers. (Your suggestions are more than welcome; please leave some ideas in the “comments” section at the bottom of this post.) Some initial thoughts on what would be important for the rest of us to read more of:

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