Wednesday, July 9, 2008

6/5 Morning: John Nichols: "Be Online... Be Real"

John Nichols writes for The Nation and is an associate editor for the Madison (Wisconsin!) Capital Times, which gave up printing an afternoon daily this year and shifted to online news as its main product. He knows whereof he speaks with respect to journalism and the Internet, and he's fired up to tell us about it. Here's a lot of what he said:

"What we're doing now online is all about mistakes... massive mistakes." But, says Nichols, the mistake-makers will figure out the solutions we need. No one knows how to do online citizen journalism, so we all have to figure it out by doing, failing, fixing, and doing more.

"The people you are writing for are not consumers." (Gee, where have I heard that before?) It's an insult to call them that. The citizens-as-consumers mindset is killing the mainstream media.

"What you do will save American democracy." (No pressure there.)

Nichols tells us there is no such thing as "Big-J Journalism." A paycheck is a sign of union membership, not profession. He offers the simplest definition of journalist heard this week, the "only definition that matters":

journalist: somebody who gathers information and conveys it to others.

"Journalism ethics is a lie" that actually harms journalism. The corporate media dreamed up the concept in the early 20th century to justify its lies. Only personal ethics exist.

Print newspapers will be dead in 20 years. If we want to create successful replacements with online newspapers, here's what Nichols says we need to do:
  1. Make the digital presence primary. Print editions are cool, too, a nice safety net, but don't worry! People want online news. They'll come to it! With content, too, don't save up the good stuff for the print edition. Online readers deserve the big news, too.
  2. Produce that online news regularly. People want something as reliable and regular as the newspaper on their doorstep. Operate on a schedule: a successful online newspaper is not a hobby blog!
  3. Keep high standards.
  4. Report what's happening now, not what you thought of yesterday. Again, we're not just blogging: we're keeping people in touch with what's happening around town.
  5. Don't measure success by hits. Put down the SiteMeter: the mainstream media have gotten sucked into Nielsen ratings, market share, etc., and they're dying because of that focus. Instead (oh, this is going to be hard), measure success by how you influence the course of the days you live in.
"Be online, but don't be virtual. Be real."

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