Chris Thomas & Amy Clark

Submitted by amyclark on Tue, 01/05/2010 – 2:34pm

Session Reporter: Chris Thomas

Conversationalist 1: Amy Clark

Conversationalist 2: Chris Thomas

Amy and I are already acquainted but hadn’t spoken in a while, so it was great to catch up! First, I think we were surprised to note that both of us feel somewhat isolated in our jobs – hers in a nonprofit organization (Washington Low Income Housing Alliance); mine as a radio news producer (Public News Service). We both are hoping for a sense of community and a healthy dose of “greater purpose” in attending the (un)conference. I think it’s cool that Amy is taking the time to learn more about how the news biz works. She sees this get-together as “part of a larger movement,” and wants to know more about what it takes “to make important stories appear.”

We both acknowledge the sometimes-uncomfortable blurring of lines between news and opinion, as well as between reporters and community/nonprofit groups that provide story ideas, and we feel there must be continued separation in order to maintain legitimacy. We also acknowledge that’s getting tougher to do.

Amy shared an interesting observation about the recent Seattle housing levy (local ballot issue). Her group had a blog response team monitoring online commentary…and chose specifically to ignore the Seattle Times online “Letter to the Editor” posts. She says the Times’ reader commentaries have “devolved” to the “lowest common denominator,” full of vitriol, racism and sexism. We discussed whether it’s intentional that the paper’s management has allowed this to happen in the interest of not censoring anyone. Amy also wonders to what extent blogs and rants – or even run-of-the-mill newspaper stories – are “closed loops” nowadays, read only by an audience predisposed to whatever views are already being espoused. “When a story comes out about what we’re doing, for instance,” she says, “We all send the link to our supporters, our mailing lists. But is anyone else reading it? Is that really meaningful ‘outreach’?” It’s a good point.

On the topic of how journalism helps communities, Amy notes that The Stranger’s political endorsements were more on-target (well, except that tub of Crisco in lieu of either candidate) than the Seattle Times’. “The Stranger is certainly not as legitimately unbiased,” she says, “but its staff understood the public better than the Times.”

We discussed where the lines are drawn for advocacy versus “straight reporting,” and both of us believe a sense of legitimacy is hard to come by in all types of news today because of our culture of cynicism. We’re blogging more…and talking less. Not sure that’s a good thing.

Both of us found that we’re skeptical about whether all the new technology is helpful, or just more clutter in our busy lives. Amy wants “proof that Twitter is worth my time.” I bristle at the thought of any technology that makes me peck out shorthand rather than writing…out…the…words.

In our short conversation, we even managed to peer far beyond our own community, at the journalists killed in other countries for printing and broadcasting news. Amy said we could be looking to emerging nations for inspiration and proof of the potential power we hold in our hands.

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