A Poynter Initiative: Making sense of the news
In early 2010, the Ford Foundation funded a yearlong Poynter effort to help the public make sense of news in the digital era, and analyze the impact of emerging sources of news and information on public life. In this article, Poynter Managing Director Butch Ward interviews the director of the project, Kelly McBride, Senior Faculty for Ethics, Reporting and Writing:
BUTCH WARD: One goal of the project is to help citizens make sense of the new media landscape. What sense have you made of it so far?
KELLY McBRIDE: People crave credible information delivered at the right time in the right format. But they are overwhelmed — they have to work too hard to get good information. Take local elections: Newsrooms and nonprofit organizations create good information on candidates and issues, but it does not get connected to the individual when they need it.
Smart innovations are appearing. ESPN delivers stats to people who play fantasy football, and users of the Weather Channel’s smart phone app rate it highly. Now we need solutions for smaller audiences — like families in a school district or people looking for help with mortgages.
WARD: When the Sense-Making project convenes nontraditional practitioners of journalism with mainstream journalists, what happens?
McBRIDE: Well, the amount of friction always surprises me. First, there’s distrust: Traditional journalists dismiss bloggers and social media mavens as amateurs who lack ethics. Non-traditional journalists, whom we call the Fifth Estate, believe mainstream journalists are elitists who lock out new and diverse voices. Neither viewpoint is accurate, but they live on because the two groups don’t spend enough time together.
They also have different values. Traditional journalists are more concerned with fairness; new journalists value authentic voice and point of view.
And while they share the goal of financial success, that’s a source of tension, too. When traditional news organizations partner with citizen journalists, they usually propose sharing content and audience — but not profit. That creates another wedge between the two groups.
WARD: More and more traditional newsrooms are using the work of non-traditional journalists. Is this improving the journalism we receive?
McBRIDE: In small ways — but the potential is enormous. We are just beginning to see the first partnerships take root. The Seattle Times has teamed up with local blogs like Tracy Record’s West Seattle Blog. Fark.com and USA Today share technology content and advertising revenue. We need even more partnerships to create something new and better.
WARD: What are the project’s plans for 2011?
McBRIDE: More training for members of the Fifth Estate — and more of it online to make it more accessible for entrepreneurs, citizen journalists and others who hope to do journalism outside of a newsroom. We’ll award another Poynter Promise Prize to a journalism startup. And we’ll continue to foster partnerships between the Fourth and Fifth estates. Both worlds have the potential to serve democracy.