Jody Brannon and Kathy Gill

Submitted by kegill on Wed, 01/06/2010 – 11:29pm

Session Reporter: Jody With An Assist From Kathy

Conversationalist 1: Jody Brannon

Conversationalist 2: Kathy Gill

See an image of Jody and Kathy (Neither could get the insert feature to work – no “upload” option on the “ad image” popup)

Kathy is invited because she teaches in the UW Digital Media Master’s program (MCDM) as well as undergrad digital journalism. Jody is a Seattle native who is also on the ONA board, chairs the Knight-Batten Awards for Innovations, is on the UW MCDM advisory board and works with some of the top young journalists through the Initiative for the Future of Journalism Education.

We both attend a lot of conferences and are often frustrated by no real strong takeaways or action plans. But we also recognize that a conference can be a success because new people join the conversation, understanding more fully the critical era we’re in. However, if more people understand the need and importance of ubiquitous (free or very cheap) wifi, for example, that alone will make the conference a success.

Kathy is glad to see the list of attendees includes non-traditional (not ‘news’) people and welcomes the chance to hear their impressions on the role of news in their live. She enters 2010 feeling a bit pessimistic, fearing a painful period where the bottom may fall out of covering important areas of news. She sees glimmers of an return to the days like those of Upton Sinclair, where true investigative work is done by a single person. “And that’s not necessarily a bad thing,” she says.

Kathy is intrigued by the idea of documenting the decline in investigative journalism over the course of our lifetimes — and believes it would be a downward trend that started far earlier than the advent of the Internet. “It’s been a gradual, insidious decline over decades.”

Both Kathy and Jody are both concerned that at a systemic level, the public — our culture — doesn’t value or understand the importance of civic engagement. Says Jody: “I fear people won’t know what they’ve had until it’s gone. And then it’ll be too late. How do we spark people to participate in civic or digital literacy?”

Kathy laments a mainstream media that is fixated on competition and opposition. Jody thinks that factors into pack journalism, saying too many flush decades of media companies failing to check their egos at the door has led to pained pocketbooks. She’d like the conference to explore ways hyperlocal sites, powered by citizen journalists, can provide better blanket coverage — kind of historical coverage — and perhaps devise guidelines that help people know when a story is beginning to mushroom, leading for the need for multiple voices or team approaches to bolster the discourse, on the one hand, and the depth of coverage on the other.

The underlying question: “How do we empower people while helping them to understand their very important responsibility to contribute to public knowledge?” And in doing that, how do we advocate for balance … or should we?

In five years, Kathy thinks its reasonable to think that hyperlocal websites around the region will be thriving (ie, providing a living), possibly strengthened by some kind of collaborative ad system. She doesn’t think Seattle will still have four local commercial TV stations and thinks the Times will not be producing a print newspaper very day (maybe twice a week). And she hopes that by 2015 Google will not have taken over the world. She’d like to see more efforts like theCommon Language Project and ProPublica and forms of longer storytelling continue to evolve. And she doesn’t think an iTunes model for magazines will sustain the current industry structure, though she does hope wifi will be ubiquitous and free. However, beyond access, digital literacy is key. “Having a tool isnt’ enough,” she says, adding that she thinks this transition period will last a generation, maybe taking another 20 years before everyone has the tools and knows how to use them. She reluctantly thinks society needs to accept the uncomfortable idea of leaving people underinformed during this growth period.

Jody hates the idea of leaving people underinformed but doesn’t know how to deal with the issue of forcing them to consume or care. In the next five years, the key will be assembling all this hyperlocal journalism and making it easier for people to care about staying savvy. She doesn’t think people will visit web sites that cover neighborhood, district, city, county, state, region, national and international news — each level being important in understanding how the world works. Streamlining the volume of news is as important as directing people to the most important news they need to know outside their sphere. Of course, aggregated content puts pressure on business models, Kathy points out.

Part of Jody’s main concern is information overload and never having time to consume news — and sometimes not being able to spend as much time producing polished content. Which is the case in this post.

Both Kathy and Jody are looking forward to the weekend’s discussions and interactions 🙂

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