Catching up

I was on the road all last week, and I didn't live-blog a remarkable seminar in Los Angeles for two reasons. One: the usual annoyingly bad hotel wifi connection in the conference rooms. Two: I didn't want to invade the privacy of the participants. In the prep work, one of the editors quipped that he was reluctant to document his vision because these days his memo would immediately wind up on Romenesko. Sometimes we need to talk privately in order to work publicly.

Ten top print editors of large newspapers were paired with their top online editors. In this era of online/offline integration, the print guys have some serious catching up to do and the online guys have a tough enough time keeping up. It's to their credit that they took four long, intense days away from the office to focus on learning about digital media. Learning requires that you drop your natural defenses and admit your shortcomings, something that's not easy to do, especially when you're supposed to be the alpha dog.

They emerged with plans to launch some new projects and change some existing plans. One major newspaper will be adding aggregation -- identifying, pointing, linking to other peoples' content -- to their political campaign coverage. That's a significant step for an institution founded on closed-circle journalism. More importantly, they emerged with thoughtful positions on why we need to move to open and conversationally engaged journalism models.

I heard a lot of excitement about widgets -- the tools (often driven by Javascript or XML interfaces) that make it possible to embed live information from external sources in Web pages. Most of that excitement was about the possibility of distribution, rather than incorporation, but I heard openness to both. This concept of live interoperation with other peoples' websites is tough to get across to many software engineers, and I was encouraged by the editors' reactions.

The best news may be what I didn't hear: defensiveness. I didn't hear a bunch of talk about protecting the old core. Or any nonsense about cannibalization.

It's easy to snipe at newspapers for "too little, too late," but I think we're actually in a cycle of irrational negativity about their prospects. There is much unharvested opportunity in local markets, and if newspapers can focus their very substantial resources in the right directions, there's a future to be found.

It's possible, of course, for all the good intentions to be forgotten when everyone gets pulled back into the crush of daily work, but the foundations have been laid.

Thanks to the Knight New Media Center for pulling this together.


I agree with you that offline journalists have some important catching up to do; I believe this is promoted by the same print media in their fear of becoming less popular with time. Obviously if my main source of income was coming from something that seems to be slowly disappearing I would be worried too. I don't see lots of high school kids reading the newspapers anymore.


Steve: Do you know of a great example of the newsroom you just described? Who is guiding the transition. I want to make a few visits... Thanks much.... and I agree with you completely, it will just take lots of work.