Peter Block’s Reflections

Reflections on New News Ecology

Peter Block

The Journalism That Matters conference held in St Petersburg is, in itself, a face to face, in person example of what the new news ecology looks like.

Some features of the conference and the new ecology:

-Content from experts is balanced with citizen (participant here) content. Each has something of value to contribute to the story. The absence of keynotes, panels and previously designed workshops is decisive. There is still space for timely and short expert sharing of thinking and practice. The people who left after the first day hold the stance that the experts hold the monopoly on wisdom.

-Wide mixture of knowledge and interests. Geeks, startups, legacy professionals, students and educators are all in the same circle. The absence of any one would be fatal.

-Example of Cooperative Journalism. Operates out of a context of abundance not scarcity. Dominant culture of the conference is one of generosity not competition. Raising the tide, care for the whole, is the priority. To keep competing is choosing to fight over crumbs.

-The hard work is the invitation, getting people to show up in new configuration. The fight is not against explaining what is new, but against the eroding faith people have in their own profession. Launching the conference, again and again, and figuring out what to do now is the tough part. This is where pioneers are needed.

A second point is that the question of new platforms, new technology and a new business model is only half the conversation. The content of the news and the worldview behind its production needs attention. It will not be enough for a media rich product. The trust in the industry seems to be declining and this is not a problem of packaging. The context out of which reporting now operates needs to be questioned. Here are some areas where new content is emerging;

-The economic model of scarcity, pseudo competition, measuring consumerism and GDP as index of prosperity, and Wall Street/stock market as the measure of wealth are breaking down. Abundance, savings, barter, local currency, revived cooperatives, local enterprise and Main Street are the emerging model.

-Consumerism may have run its course. It is designed for expanding needs, the belief that what I require for a good life must be purchased. Consumer society has taken too great a toll on the family, the land, and the centers of our communities. Community and home economics is replacing consumerism.

-Leaders, large institutions, city hall, courts, and the buildings we have been reporting on are not the real story. Citizens, community, neighborhoods, community gardens, local culture and interdependence despite the odds are the emerging story.

-The answers to problems of health, education, safety, poverty, and the land are not found in focusing on what is wrong with our programs, leaders, funding and expertise. They have little capacity to reform under the existing context. We are in the wrong conversation in each of these. The powerful conversation that goes unreported is how citizens are taking control of all these areas. Right now citizen actions to create health, raise a child, stay safe, be prosperous without cash, and caring for the land are considered “human interest” or “alternative efforts”, which discounts what is happening. The storyline that someone will commercialize is what small groups, communities and under the radar movements are producing in these areas.

Final point is that if the JTM conference is the model for what is coming, the value proposition for a customer like me might include:

-Help me get a greater return on my investment in home technology. We have computers, DVD’s, video games, Playstations, cell phones, TV’s, PDA’s and more. The citizen not only needs content, but Geek help in getting more out of these devices. A tiered service guide to the Internet and help in the use of my devices would be worth paying for.

-Offer a customized bundled package of news, education, entertainment and lifestyle guides for spending decisions. We now pay separately for a monthly city magazine, TV and Cable, weekly paper, daily paper, etc. Create cooperative venture in the community where citizen can get sources as a bundle for lower price. The real hidden cost of news and technology is the services, products and technical capability that we will never use. This is the Cooperative Journalism mentioned above.

-Use the need for news and information as a community-organizing device. Citizen generated stories are an excuse for building social fabric. We could build a local brand by converting consumers to citizens and providing the vehicle for their taking more ownership in the well being of their community. Make this an explicit purpose.

About Peggy Holman

Peggy Holman supports organizations and communities to uncover creative responses to complex challenges using innovative engagement processes. The Change Handbook, co-authored with Tom Devane and Steven Cady, documents many such processes. The book is the considered the definitive resource for leaders and consultants working to increase resilience, agility, and collaboration in organizations and other social systems. Peggy co-founded Journalism that Matters in 2001 with three journalists to support the pioneers who are shaping the emerging news and information ecology. Peggy’s latest book, Engaging Emergence: Turning Upheaval into Opportunity, supports people facing disruptions to invite others to join them in realizing new possibilities.

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One Response to Peter Block’s Reflections

  1. Pingback: Journalism in the New News Ecology, March 1-4, 2009 | Journalism in the New News Ecology

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