Seattle: A New Media Case Study

The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism recently released its “State of the News Media 2011” report. It includes “Seattle: A New Media Case Study,” an essay Pew asked me to write about Seattle’s changing news landscape.

I was reluctant to take on the task because anything short of an extensive study would be inherently flawed. But I decided to do the report to stimulate conversation in the “Seattle Journalism Commons,” soon to be launched by Journalism That Matters Pacific Northwest.

More about the Commons another day, but for now this blog will launch the conversation.

Here are the opening paragraphs of my essay for Pew:

Seattle, perhaps more than any other American city, epitomizes the promise and challenges of American journalism at the local level.

In the last few years, it has experienced both a sharp loss of traditional news resources and an exciting rise in new journalistic enterprises and inventive collaborations between traditional and emerging media. A New America Foundation case study of Seattle’s news ecosystem describes it as ‘a digital community still in transition.’ A new, vibrant media scene is emerging. But it also may not take hold.

I listed several factors that have created positive energy in Seattle’s media landscape. They include lots of experimentation and collaboration, an abundance of hyper-local news sites, and public acceptance of and engagement with emerging media.

I also listed what I regard as unmet or under-met news and information needs. They include voids created by the erosion of traditional media that are not yet being filled by emerging media. Among these are state capital coverage, arts and culture coverage, and public insight or networked journalism. In terms of needs, I also mentioned foundation support, mapping and metrics for assessing information opportunities, and challenges in finding sustainable business models for emerging media.

The report included an annotated list of “noteworthy outlets that illustrate what is happening in digital journalism in Seattle.” It began with a caveat that any such list would be incomplete and immediately out of date.

Boy, was I right. Between the time I sent the final version of the list to my editors at Pew and the time it was posted, John Cook and Todd Bishop left TechFlash and launched Geek Wire.

My hope is that people will build on my list with their own links and observations. You can post them here, and we’ll build a longer list as we go.

Initial reaction to my Pew piece is encouraging, which is to say it is getting some praise and healthy push back from various corners.

A specific criticism that surprised me is that arts coverage is more robust than my assessment. I would love to hear more views on that. In the meantime, the first addition to my annotated list of noteworthy websites needs to be Encore Media Group’s CityArtsonline.com and City Arts Blog.

Also on the list of concerns is that my perspective is an old media view of new media. I plead guilty. This blog is open for other perspectives from the people who are shaping the regional news and information ecosystem.

Please read my Pew essay and offer your thoughts. Here are some specific questions to kick around:

  • What’s the current state of Seattle’s regional news and information ecosystem?
  • What trends are you noticing?  What’s working?
  • What does a healthy regional news and information ecosystem look like?
  • How can we stimulate more dialogue and idea sharing about news and information innovation?
  • How can we create more public engagement with journalism?
  • How can we increase the diversity of voices participating in conversations about journalism?

11 thoughts on “Seattle: A New Media Case Study

  1. Pingback: *test* does a comment here go on the… « Seattle Media Landscape

  2. Karen Johnson

    In response to your question, “How can we create more public engagement with journalism?” I’d like to chime in with a few organizations that are engaging communities through one-on-one meetups: Xconomy, The University of Washington’s MCDM salon series and other topic-specific blogs are organizing panels and discussions with readers and community members. It will be interesting to see how these real world connections shape coverage as reporters and bloggers become more in-tune with their audiences. It might also pose challenges/questions for the 21st Century journalist. Does interacting with the reader on a one-on-one level skew coverage? Does it introduce more forms of bias? Just a few things to consider. Thanks for getting the conversation started, Mike.

    1. Mike Fancher Post author

      Karen,
      After I retired from The Seattle Times in 2008, I spent the next academic year as a fellow in the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the Missouri School of Journalism, studying journalism ethics in the digital age. I came away with a conviction that journalism needs a new ethic of public trust through public engagement. Your questions are good ones, and I would add a few more.
      How can we ensure that greater public engagement translates into better, more accurate and trustworthy journalism? How might engagement lessen perceptions of bias? I’m optimistic about those possibilities.
      Research at Mizzou indicates that the public generally values the importance of journalism and people want journalists to do a better job of living up to the values and standards they profess.
      There is also increasing evidence that community engagement is essential to the success and sustainability of hyper-local news sites. It would be great if people involved in those sites in Seattle would offer their insights.
      Thanks for your comment.

  3. Tom Stites

    Having visited Seattle recently and attended meetings of the Journalism Commons and the Civic Communications Commons, I was struck that in all my travels I’d not encountered near this much confident energy about journalism’s future.

    Reading your comprehensive and inspiring piece in the Pew report — including the appendix — opened my eyes further: There’s even more activity than I knew from my visit. It’s no marvel that Seattle is home to the first viable journalism and civic communications commons. As a Bostonian, I’m envious.

  4. Julie Pham

    Thank you for writing this very interesting and useful study and reference guide! I’m encouraged by the emerging journalism organizations and I’m excited that JTM Pacific Northwest is bringing them together. These questions persist: How do we ensure we help each other maximize limited resources rather than compete for limited funding? How do reduce redundancies across our media organizations? Time, I’m sure, will tell all.

    1. Jacob Caggiano

      Julie, both questions are critical and have been circling my mind for some time as well.

      On the question of reducing redundancies, I am trying to tackle that with the OMG – Online Media Guide, which will allow anyone to drill down and discover who’s covering what as well as provide a birds eye view of what still needs to be covered.

      I am hoping that after we have an organized way to see where energies are being directed, we can find a way to fill in information needs that have yet to be taken on and come up with the resources to get them covered.

      As mentioned in the report, I have preliminary maps up at http://wanewscouncil.org/omgwashington

      but there’s plenty more in the works and our database is growing in size and sophistication each week

  5. anne stadler

    Re. Arts coverage: Did you include ArtsJournal.com, one of the longest lasting & best coverages of the arts in the country?

    1. Mike Fancher Post author

      I didn’t include ArtsJournal.com, so thanks for mentioning it. We are going to create a new list of sites people think are noteworthy, and I’ll add ArtsJournal.

  6. Huckleberry Hart

    I have been particularly taken by the evolution of hyper-local blogs/news sources as a community information hub. The editors/contributors are on the streets, living amongst their subjects, and deeply concerned about issues. One of the greatest example of the hybridization of content creator/consumer.

  7. Pamela Kilborn-Miller

    Hi Mike,

    Thanks for the excellent report. Here are a few thoughts based on my experience in the Journalism That Matters (JTM) global health working group:

    I appreciate that your report includes facts regarding why Seattle seems well-positioned to gain traction in terms of developing new models for local journalism. I’m sensitive to this issue because Dr. Steve Gloyd from the UW Department of Global Health is frustrated with the current “rah rah” coverage of global health (GH) in the Pacific Northwest that is often more advocacy than news.

    Lessons Learned:

    1. Audience Focus – An Atlantic article by James Fallows in April 2011 suggests that successful new media providers are passionate about conducting audience research to better meet user needs. Your comments regarding mapping are in the same ballpark as audience research, which is wonderful, but my understanding is that mapping is a different facet of audience research. For example, the GH working group recently finished an audience research project and now we need to map several possible audiences to clarify their potential size and reach. Perhaps JTM can help us innovate in this area? I realize that audience research seems like common sense but Kaiser’s recent report on the future of global health journalism didn’t include the audience in the list of stakeholders that informed the report.

    2. Global-Local Integration – Our GH working group is experimenting with a possible new audience definition that might excite people around the world, which could expand our original audience definition and increase our possible market size. In attention to meeting the needs of the Northwest audience, we’ll consider perspectives that that might interest a specific global audience type.

    3. Cross-Sector Collaboration – Our working group is bringing fresh thinking to the table with members who have expertise outside journalism, such as a business development person, a communications company, and a pre-med student. However, the journalists will make the final decisions based on guiding principles that honor news standards.

    Suggestions:

    1. Make the Case – Journalism That Matters should a present a succinct and compelling case for why local news is important. We might collaborate with the Master of Science in Digital Media program at the UW on a short video. For example, see the link below for a fun three-minute video that TED produced for an event at the United Nations. This approach isn’t necessarily appropriate for journalism but I think we should think outside the box in terms of how we present the case. Actor Rainn Wilson from The Office narrated the video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SxO-6SaNMvg.

    2. Identify the Successes – I appreciated that you mentioned that Minnesota Public Radio’s network of 75,000 listeners is incorporated into the reporting process. I also think it’s great that the Seattle Times links to local blogs. In the Atlantic article mentioned above, James Fallows said the publication is now financially stable but I don’t think he said why? I assume it has to do with their archives. What else is working around the world?

    3. Expand the Group – Invite more people into the local journalism conversation and work on actual projects that adapt credible processes from other sectors. For example, Joe Anderson from Forum One Communications recently presented a proven “requirements gathering process” at the global health working group meeting. I think it sparked the hope that, with tenacity, we will find a model that works.

    Thanks again Mike! If you’re interested, we should try to get you on the speakers’ list for a 2011-12 TEDxSeattle or TEDxRainier event. I don’t have anything to do with those events, but I’ll be happy to help advocate for a local journalism topic.

    Kind Regards,
    PamKM

    1. Pamela Kilborn-Miller

      Bug Report: The above video with a gold map deleted the text that introduced the video. Item #1 under the Suggestions heading should have read:

      Make the Case – Journalism That Matters should a present a succinct and compelling case for why local news is important. We might collaborate with the Master of Science in Digital Media program at the UW on a short video. For example, see the fun three-minute video (above) that TED produced for an event at the United Nations. This approach isn’t necessarily appropriate for journalism but I think we should think outside the box in terms of how we make the case. Actor Rainn Wilson from The Office narrated the video.

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