October 26, 2009

Lots of news and information, so is there a crisis or isn’t there?

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rita_hibbardwebThere seems to be plenty of news and information out there. What’s the crisis?

A reasonable question, asked by a student at the Society of Professional Journalists conference Saturday in Eugene.

There is a lot of content out there, responded, D.J. Wilson, president and general manager o the KGW Media Group of Portland, but how much is vetted? What can you truly count on? And how much has that diminished over time? That’s the challenge facing us, she said, and this past year has been one of the most challenging in her company’s experience. KGW is not alone in this. It has been a tough time for news, with 35,000 journalism jobs lost in the past 12 months, including 25,000 in print and 8,000 in broadcast. With those jobs, go many of the public’s eyes and ears on our institutions, both corporate and governmental.

On the same panel with Wilson, I responded that there is far, far less content of the kind that InvestigateWest is all about —  high-quality, investigative regional reporting on issues that matter. As the business model for news has been devastated by the recession and the erosion of traditional advertising revenue, news organizations have pulled support for the high-resource, cost-intensive beats like investigative reporting, and coverage of issues like the environment, health and social justice, the kind of coverage that is right in InvestigateWest’s wheelhouse.  We’re intent on finding another path – supported collaboratively by individual donors, foundations and media partners — that allows this important coverage to continue and develop with input from citizens.

In another room, Seattle news site founder Publicola Josh Feit noted how he became the first credentialed online media organization to cover the state capital. At the same time, the number of credentialed media covering Olympia has declined from 24 to six, he said.

Speaking at SPJ Conference

L-R, Abraham Hyatt, Digital Journalism; Steve Woodward, Nozzl Media; Rita Hibbard, InvestigateWest; DJ Wilson, KGW Media Group

On panels throughout the day, new technological responses to meeting these challenges were presented, from Washington State University Professor Orest Pilskalns, who has produced Mapwith.us, innovative mobile and web-based mapping solutions for consumers and businesses, and Steve Woodward, co-founder and CEO of Nozzl Media Inc, which builds real-time streams of news, ads, social media and public records for smart phones and Web sites.

 Oregonian investigative reporter Brent Walth suggested that young reporters to make a records request once a week. He advised them to prepare to make lots of requests and do a lot of interviews that in all likelihood will not yield information that is directly useful in a story. But even though a small percentage of the information is actually present in the end product investigative story, he said, “a large percentage is in the story’s footprint.” That’s how an investigative reporter thinks, and that’s the DNA we don’t want to lose as a craft, or as a democracy.

It was a great conference put on by people who care about the future of journalism in America, and I was honored to be included.

— Rita Hibbard

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