Citizen journalists and celebrity journalists on the future of the press

At last week’s Next American City‘s Blogging the City: The Internet and Urban Advocacy, several of the more notable local bloggers talked about how, in an era when even free local papers are having to lay off staff, blogs are becoming the place people go to get coverage about local issues that matter to them. The Washington Post isn’t going to send a reporter to cover a transportation planning board meeting — but David Alpert of greatergreaterwashington.org not only goes to those meetings and reports on them, he encourages other people to come along and put in their voices for better public transportation, for example.

At the end of a spirited debate on how local blogs are changing how citizens get involved in their cities, somebody thought to point out: Is this a good thing? Is it a good idea that mostly-affluent, mostly-young urban professionals are organizing online to strategize about pursuing their own agenda? We looked at each other in confusion. Of course it’s a good thing! We’re the people, taking back power from The Man! Bureaucrats thrived for years on citizen inaction; now we’ve got a voice, and we’re making it heard! Except, the lone dissenter persisted, we don’t represent the city as a whole. We’re part of the people, not all of the people. DC is not made up of young urban professionals, not-even-close. We’re just the ones who have more access to computers.

For all that blogs are a wonderful thing, there’s still a digital divide. If the press isn’t looking out for The People’s interest, who will speak for those who don’t have blogs? If blogs and other user-created content are the future of media, where does that leave those who don’t have the tools to create content?

Today at IFC’s Make Media Matter Town Hall Meeting, I was struck by the same question. A panel of seven celebrity journalists, including George Stephanopoulos, John King, and Juan Williams, discussed the present and future of traditional journalism. The discussion ranged from whether there are more “soft” stories on Obama than there were on Bush and Clinton and why that might be, to the fact that almost all the talking heads are white men, to how journalism of the future is going to look. The important thing, according to Tucker Carlson — who was not as loud as we had expected — is to make journalism pay. Investigative journalism may be dead, though no one wants to admit it, but the thirst for news is out there, and people aren’t willing to wait until the evening news to come on to get their content. No one has yet figured out how to make online news profitably. Norman Ornstein touched on a tech solution that would employ a news aggregator where you’d pay to access the articles that looked interesting. I was intrigued, but despite Tucker Carlson’s insistence that computers are cheap these days, I remain skeptical. One of the campaigns we’re working on is the unemployment epidemic; in these economic times, should we really be looking to expensive tech to solve all our information problems? Or will the new face of journalism further alienate the “Haves” from the “Have-Nots”? To be honest, I’m not sure that these celebrity journalists have any better idea of the answers to the crisis of the traditional press than I do.

The relatively civil debate at Make Media Matter degenerated in the last few minutes into squabbling. It was a bit like reading the comments in a blog — neither side listening to the other and everyone shouting to be heard — except that the players were considerably better-paid.

At Massey Media, blogs are one of many tools we use to access the media. Traditional media like newspapers and television are still the best way to get our message out to many people who can’t afford a laptop and broadband, and they will continue to be until a new media infrastructure takes their place. Blogs are great when targeting certain audiences, but they are by no means our only strategy left in a changing news world! New media is the next big thing and we won’t miss that boat, but television is still the primary source for many people, and we will continue to work with that framework while at the same time exploring all the new options to reach a more tech-savvy audience as well.

- Janaki Spickard-Keeler

Happiness in the midst of collapse: Something to smile about

When viewed from outer space, one might say that the main objective of the human race since the Industrial Revolution has been to develop. “Development” is a sacred word to your local town hall, the sounding floor of the UN, and micro-financiers from Ghana to Sri Lanka.

And we’ve been very good developers. We’ve built everything to make us go faster, longer, and stronger, from malls to missiles to microchips. The standard of living of the average person in the US has increased to include all the standard comforts that may have been afforded by your typical feudal lord from England or Japan. Yet, if you take a more nuanced view of humans, and actually ask one of us, “What is the goal of your life?” The answer you usually get is something that boils down to “I just want happiness.”

Do our developments lead to happiness?

In an insightful New York Times column, Daniel Gilbert says that happiness levels in the US have decreased since the before the global economic collapse that we’ve been experiencing for the past eight months. But he makes the important distinction that human happiness is not really in flux according to increased or decreased wealth. The real reason that the economic collapse has impacted happiness has more to to with uncertainty. He writes:

But light wallets are not the cause of our heavy hearts. After all, most of us still have more inflation-adjusted dollars than our grandparents had, and they didn’t live in an unremitting funk. Middle-class Americans still enjoy more luxury than upper-class Americans enjoyed a century earlier, and the fin de siècle was not an especially gloomy time. Clearly, people can be perfectly happy with less than we had last year and less than we have now.

So if a dearth of dollars isn’t making us miserable, then what is? No one knows. I don’t mean that no one knows the answer to this question. I mean that the answer to this question is that no one knows — and not knowing is making us sick.

So it is actually financial uncertainty, not the decrease in our bank accounts that is making us unhappy. Gilbert concludes:

Our national gloom is real enough, but it isn’t a matter of insufficient funds. It’s a matter of insufficient certainty. Americans have been perfectly happy with far less wealth than most of us have now, and we could quickly become those Americans again — if only we knew we had to.

Happiness has nothing to do with the fact that the average American is less able to engage in highly consumptive activities like going to Disneyland or stuffing their closets with unneeded fashion and accessories.

So why has our global society spent the last 150 years seeking more and more stuff, leisure, and comfort, like we’re on some crazy global joy ride? Not to make us happier, that’s for sure. We can be perfectly happy without a bull market, a trust fund, or land holdings. And for most of us, who aren’t among the rich and famous, that’s something to smile about.

- Lacy MacAuley

Social Media: How Much is Too Much?

May 20, 2009 Create Buzz Online

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In today’s new media saturated culture, if you want to keep up with friends, clients, customers and opportunities, social networking must be an intricate part of your media equation. But where do you draw the line?

One week, your friend tells you that if you aren’t on Facebook, then you might as well be living in the Stone Age. The very next week that friend might tell you that Facebook is out, and LinkedIn is the only way to go if you want to be in the know.

Another friend suggests that you Twitter from your cell phone, and another says that if you don’t blog and have a presence on forums on a daily basis then you are obsolete.

If you actually have friends that are giving you this social networking advice, you run with a hip crowd. Have fun with that. But most people hear about new social networking sites as they are thrown in casually into conversation, with the speaker assuming that you, the listener, are some sort of social networking guru.

If you are one of these people being passively thrust into this social networking frenzy, I have a couple of suggestions for you (and your business, if you are an entrepreneur)

1. Do your homework.

All social networking sites may seem the same to an outsider, but each one offers different functions and will connect you to a different group of people. Scroll through the “About Us” sections of websites to get a feel for the functions and tone of the site.

2. Know your audience

If you are over the age of 18, and if you are looking to use social networking to promote your cause or your business, you aren’t going to need sites like MySpace which are geared towards younger crowds of people. Instead, take a look at sites such as LinkedIn, or even Facebook to a certain extent, to plant your personal or organizational flag.

3. Don’t mix business with pleasure

If you create a Facebook page to promote your small business, never post personal photos, like pictures of your camping trip with your buddies the weekend before. People want to do business with you without knowing how pasty your back is.

4. Keep it under control

With all those hip friends telling you to sign up for this and try out that, it can become counter productive. If you took two minutes to Tweet about how you are about to meet with a client for the first time, and that you’re nervous, that’s two minutes you don’t have to finish preparing for your meeting. Way to go.

Use only as many sites as you can afford to. Juggling and updating six sites might be reasonable for some people, but for others, one or two might be an easier lift to start. See what works for you.

5. Choose wisely…

Carefully target your media outreach. This means being very specific. If you are selling custom made bikes in Virginia, you would need to have a presence on a forum on say, mountain biking in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Most importantly, just do what works for you, and have fun doing it!

Note: check out Sarah Massey’s interview on the Independent Business Owner Show and listen to more tips about getting your message out in the media.

- Lyle Harrod

An agreement that isn’t good for anyone: The Panama Trade Promotion Agreement

The proposed Panama trade plan would harm intact, ecologically sustainable communities like that of the Kuna indians. Photo source: www.lizasreef.com

People and planet should come before profits, but the proposed Panama trade plan would mean greed rules. The Senate Finance committee is meeting tomorrow to discuss the proposed Panama Trade Promotion Agreement. Top trade negotiator Ron Kirk is trying to ram through this agreement by July 1, when the Panamanian head of state Martin Torrijos leaves office. But this is just another free trade agreement that is bad for the people of Panama, it’s bad for the planet, and it’s no good for people of the US. We should call upon Congress to stop it now.

There’s a rancher that I know who raises cattle in the Chiriqui province of Panama, who I’ll only call Uncle Rickie. I met Uncle Rickie when I traveled to Panama in November of 2008, and I remember him for being a jolly fellow with a big belly who proudly bounced his new granddaughter Antonia, his first grandchild, on his knee.

If the Panama agreement went forward, Uncle Rickie would have to contend with a host of difficulties. The first would be that US cattle ranchers, who enjoy hundreds of millions in subsidies from the US government (US livestock farmers got handouts of about $344 million in 2003, for example,) would suddenly be able to sell duty-free to Panamanians. At the same time, Uncle Rickie will have to compete with a dramatic influx of cheap pork products from the US. Pro-pork lobbyists think that increased sales to Panama will result in $20.6 million in increased revenue. Uncle Rickie will have a lot of trouble making a profit by selling his beef to the Panamanian market, and eventually he may have to sell his land.

Farmers should be allowed to sell to their local markets. Local, living economies are good for everyone. If officials pass the harmful agreement, farmers like Uncle Rickie will no longer be able to carry on farming. Who would be there to buy the land of farmers who are forced to sell? Companies from the US and other rich nations, and maybe some wealthy Panamanians who support this agreement. This leads to a consolidation of power and decision-making as fewer people own more and more of planet earth. But people have a right to self-determination and autonomy, and the Panamanian government should respect that right.

… Continue Reading

“GRAFFITI LIFE”: Culture Shock San Diego dances graffiti

May 18, 2009 Arts, Make Headlines, Public Art

You’re driving down the highway and out of the corner of your eye, you see the familiar bare concrete has transformed overnight. Large letters bloom like dandelions along the side of the road. What you don’t see, what’s hidden, is the alchemy that went on in the night: the kid wired on adrenaline, clutching a can of paint, sweat running down his back as he struggles to tell his story, make his mark, make his voice heard before the sirens down the road get too close. He’s competing and collaborating with rivals and friends, his nights are a complex ballet of navigating between art and the law, other taggers whirling around and past him to the pounding beat of his heart.

Internationally renowned graffiti writer Pose 2 shows us the hidden drama behind the flat images under bridges and along roads familiar to all of us. He brings to life, to dance, the living and often illegal fringe of graffiti. The acclaimed Culture Shock San Diego dance troupe body rocks their way through this surreal journey as break-dancing and graffiti art merge to visually entertain and enlighten upon the most controversial art movement in the history of man.

Massey Media is honored to be helping Pose 2 publicize his work!

Graffiti Life cast

photo credit: Chris Keeney
WHO: International Graffiti Writer Pose 2 and Culture Shock San Diego dance troupe

WHAT: “Graffiti Life”: Theatrical dance show exploring the underground world of graffiti through hiphop dance

WHEN: May 28 and 29, 7 p.m.; May 30, 2 and 7 p.m.; May 31, 5 p.m.

WHERE: Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, San Diego, CA

… Continue Reading

The Financial Times on the future of capitalism?

A fascinating series in the Financial Times has been exploring the future of capitalism. What’s groundbreaking is that it has been giving voice to economic earth-shakers like Richard Layard, who says that we need a fundamental shift away from competitive capitalist values. In a March 11, 2009 FT article, Layard writes:

“[W]e should stop the worship of money and create a more humane society where the quality of human experience is the criterion…

[W]e need a trend away from excessive individualism and towards greater social responsibility. Is it possible to reverse a cultural trend in this way? It has happened before, in the early 19th century. For the next 150 years there was a growth of social responsibility, followed by a decline in the next 50. So a trend can change and it is often in bad times (such as the 1930s in Scandinavia) that people decide to seek a more co-operative lifestyle.”

If the Financial Times will give voice to those questioning capitalism, progressive communicators must also.

If the Financial Times will give voice to those questioning capitalism, progressive communicators must also.

From an industry standpoint, if the Financial Times is willing to give voice to those who are openly opposing some of the key tenets of our economic system, it is time for all progressive communicators who call for a better way forward in this time of economic crisis to start questioning even more deeply. We have a lot of communications work to do if we are going to begin to shift societal values toward a more ethical value system and away from the values of greed. But if the Financial Times is willing to do it, so must we.

- Lacy MacAuley

A Lab To Save Journalism

May 11, 2009 Economy, Place Opinions

For the last two weeks, I have been pitching important stories about protecting voting rights and turning around America’s economy. To my dismay, I am finding that my calls to some long-time media contacts are not answered because they have been downsized or shut-down. News & Notes on NPR was one of the most intelligent pieces of coverage of the black community, in my opinion; unfortunately it has been discontinued. Neil at the Affinity Lab saved me a pitch call that wouldn’t get answered when he told me AJC’s opinion page editor Cynthia Tucker is moving to DC. What does this signal? Just now, an old contact at AP’s email bounced back. Is he gone, too?

The ever-vigilant and always fabulous Will Robinson posted this on his Facebook 5/5: “An interesting Brit podcast on future of US newspapers. Next we need look at the low ratings for local TV news programs – especially the 10 and 11 PM local newscasts. With news staff cuts, ESPN, and the weather channel/weather.com are the local TV newscasts the next domino to fall after newspapers? What happens to local and state government when the press is now longer there to be a watchdog?” See Lacy’s blog about the Rocky Mountain News. See Frank Rich on suicide watch for newspapers at the Times.

While Massey Media has, since the beginning of the century, advised our organizations and clients on Internet media, new media, web 2.0, 3.0 and running successful communications campaigns without a full reliance on the press, I fear the loss of traditional media also means a choking off of voices and outlets.

How will journalism survive? According to Rich, “… nobody really knows what form journalism will take in the evolving post-newspaper era.” But, we all know that real investigative reporting takes money. Where will that come from? Some of my colleagues from the world of newspapers have gone to institutes and foundation-supported efforts. Yet, if reporters have foundation-credentials vs newsroom-credentials, are elected leaders going to feel it necessary to engage them or will they be able to close the door? Are reporters participating in truth-telling without the backing of a proven and wide audience?

In addition to the theoretical questions about how journalism will evolve, there is the question about what out-of-work reporters do for a paycheck. My uncle was a long-time newspaper editor who has gone on to do great work in public relations in support of public schools. Yes, there are great careers for reporters, even being a Whitehouse Press Secretary, and there will always be demand for great communicators.

Yet, journalists miss the the newsroom. (See the fun new thriller State of Play) The noise of the newsroom, the tension of meeting a daily deadline and following leads, create an energy that can’t be replicated online.

We, at Massey Media, work in a open space, akin to a newsroom. The Affinity Lab is a cooperative workspace for DC entrepreneurs. Sometimes, the room can get exciting. When a group is trying to launch a new program, we all pitch in, like 1Well’s fundraiser or Affinity Lab’s recent public relations push. The energy heats up with dozens of people pitching in to create our shared success. We bring in different types of funding: clients, foundations, sales, membership fees, and our synergy is loose. It works.
newsroom

I suggest that jobless journalists use an Affinity Lab-style cooperative to save reporting. Jobless journalists can be members and pay a fee or have sponsor pay. (Affinity Lab starts at $235/month. ) Jobless journalists can come together in a shared workspace would be the start to recreating a newsroom feeling. Out of newspaper employees would organize by skills and interests: Those with sales and financing experience get to work at finding investment dollars. Journalists go back to work, maybe reporting on the demise of the newspaper. The tech people build new media for delivering the stories, and so forth. The question that needs to be answered is who will pay for journalism in America? I suggest an incubator be built so we can preserve truth in our democracy.

- Sarah Massey

There’s a Gigabyte Ceiling and We’re Crashing Through

May 7, 2009 Create Buzz Online

Massey Media is sponsoring the Women Who Tech telesummit next week; because, as a woman-owned business, we are aware of the challenges faced in any area of professional life as a consequence of gender. What I didn’t fully appreciate is just how behind the times the tech industry is in terms of not appreciating or sometimes not even including women.

Statistics vary, but estimates of the percentage of female industry professionals range from five to 30 percent. In the 21st century, these numbers would make me laugh if they weren’t so tragic. What’s worse is that there are still debates out there over whether these numbers reflect nature or nurture. The truth is that technology is a field that continues to sideline women, to its own detriment. Tech culture plays its own part. For example, a recent presentation at the Ruby on Rails conference in San Francisco is an appalling illustration of the kind of attitude women in the industry have to deal with every day.

The net itself is often a gendered space. Internet culture has subdivided into male- and female-oriented spaces on the web. Witness the recent creation of Dreamwidth Studios, a social networking site designed for and by women. Although this is not the way it would describe itself, and the fact appears nowhere in its literature, easily 95 percent of its users are women. They felt unwelcome at more traditional social networking sites and created a space for themselves. Perhaps this is progress; perhaps it is not. The need to acknowledge gender issues in the tech universe is the reason the Women Who Tech conference is so important.

Massey Media is doing the “traditional media” outreach for the conference. We’re contacting radio shows, newspapers, and TV. Our pitch is essentially: “90 percent of your tech stories are about men. That’s a problem.” When you read about the telesummit in the news, know that Massey Media placed that story because we believe in the social change represented by Women Who Tech.

- Janaki Spickard-Keeler

Why has news of swine flu gone “viral”?

May 5, 2009 Place Opinions
News of swine flu has spread everywhereTwo years ago, when SARS bird flu fears caused people to kill off flocks and stop eating meat, I was living in San Francisco, at that time considered a hot spot for the virus to reach the US. At that time, I took a zen attitude, made sure to get plenty of rest, fruits, and vegetables, and didn’t worry, even in Chinatown.
Now I’m living right down the street from the workplace of one confirmed swine flu patients, an Energy Department staffer who had traveled with Obama recently to Mexico, came home and spread it to his family. But am I wearing a surgical mask? Nope.
Some people are very afraid. Chinese authorities have been quarantining travelers from Mexico willy-nilly, while the schools of Fort Worth, Texas, keeps its 80,000 students home for a week and people of faith are pushing not just prayer as a solution, but refraining from taking communion wine and even the traditional “handshake of peace.”
So why am I so unconcerned? Because I’ve taken a close look at the numbers. The Center for Disease Control estimates that about 36,000 people in the US die each year from the flu. But swine flu had only killed one person in the US, a Mexican toddler visiting Texas. Much more dangerous than swine flu is lightning strikes, which slay an average of 62 American lives per year, according to the NOAA. There have, however, been about 230 confirmed cases of this flu in the US.
Heart disease is the umber one killer in the US, claiming about 820,000 lives in the US in 2006, yet we don’t see people running screaming from McDonalds or buying up all the jogging shoes at Wal-Mart.
Even Janet Napolitano, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, says “by and large, people should carry on with their normal, everyday lives.” The experts and officials clearly state that the only people who need to change their behavior at all are those who show symptoms of the flu.
So, swine flu is more a disease of the press than the scary pandemic it’s supposed to be. But if so, why has basically every news outlet made a major news item out of a disease that has only claimed one death?
Is this media circus just a news Frankenstein gone out of control – once the media created demand for news on swine flu, it spread like wildfire? Or is this some scheme to sell more papers at a time when many news outlets are in danger of going on the dole? Some believe there is a more sinister reason at work, that someone has gotten the media train rolling, like preparing us to push through pet legislation by the pharmaceutical industry, or an effort by a government agency snatching up our civil liberties, or maybe a larger share of the federal government pie. Still others feel that this could be some smear on immigrants. (Buzz among conspiracy theorists has reached a pitch.) One thing is certain, it is a clear example of the dangers of media hype.
There is no clear indication of why this media storm around swine flu has been so pandemic, but this has certainly been an example of a news item gone, well, viral. Until the numbers get a little more convincing, though, I’m more worried about getting hit by lightning than death by swine flu.
- Lacy MacAuley

Massey Media Now on Twitter!

May 4, 2009 Create Buzz Online

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It’s true. We’ve made the jump to Twitter so we can keep all of you Progressive minded people in the loop with how we are helping the movement. If you haven’t heard of Twitter before this, it’s a microblogging website in the same vein as the “Facebook Status”, with a max limit of 140 characters. We figured if the White House is doing it, then so should we. Please check out Massey Media’s Twitter profile and help us “mobile-ize” for change!

- Lyle

Massey Media’s Blog

Own the Press was founded on the belief that news makes things happen, and you can make your own news. The big vision is that the world needs more good news to create positive change. Own the Press has three purposes:  
1. To give you the tools to makes your own news.  
2. To give you examples of good journalism.
3. To bring you good news.

You will find articles on how to own the press (tactics) in the Massey Media Toolkit.  We have organized examples of using these tactics under five rubrics.
1. Be Seen demonstrates the necessity and power of the visual.
2. Make Headlines is how to create news.
3. Place Opinions is an important, but often overlooked, way of owning the press.
4. Create Buzz Online illustrates the many ways to grow your audience.  
4.Tell Your Story is really the first and most basic skill you need to own the press.

We are glad that you have joined us in this endeavor. Together, we can change the world, one headline at a time.

Have an idea for a post? Please email us info(at)massey-media.com. THANKS!

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