What called us here?

Here are notes of the introductory circle discussion on Thurs., Jan. 11 among 38 participants in “Journalism That Matters: The Memphis Sessions.”

Co-facilitators Peggy Holman and Stephen Silha asked each participant to answer two questions:

  • What’s the question that called you here?
  • What’s the best possible outcome you can imagine from being together?

“These are rough notes. A few of the speaker summaries are incomplete. Please edit your own comments. Simply click on the EDIT tab above. Make sure to hit the SAVE PAGE button at the bottom of the page when done!”

— Bill Densmore

Chris Peck, co-convener and editor of The Commercial Appeal, opens the two-hour session. He says it’s a unique moment where the pressures and challenges of journalism are “right with you everyday” if you’re in a newsroom. And so to understand what’s happening, “it’s a rare moment that you can get that diversity in a room and really let your hair down.” He explains the gathering ground rule: “We don’t represent anybody [but ourselves]”. The basic commitment for participants, he says, is to leave on Friday thinking: “I’m going to do something that helps journalism take it to whatever is next.”

For background on speakers, see a page with links to participant bios HERE.

Ilona Meagher — Was a flight attendant for 15 years, transitioned to graphic and web design, read a story in the Seattle Weekly about troops returning home. She has been swept up by the help of many people into the issue of post-traumatic stress syndrome. “Everything has just come to me, I’m just a vessel.” A third-year journalism student. She is here with and her blog is The book is “Moving a Nation to Care.”

Mike Caputo — He wants to know if it is possible to reform from within the existing structure. Can you actually reform from within the structures within or in a different way. The best possible outcome is getting to know some people.

Beth Lawton — From the Newspaper Association of America. The question that brought here is how can she go back to what she’s doing and push the newspaper industry in the right direction, if is there a right direction . . . and how to communicate with people who might need a little bit of a push.

Karen Magnuson — “The question that drew me here is how can I help.” She’s very interested in the future of the industry. She pours her heart out for that. The best possible outcome for her would be if something real happened. She has been to events where everyone talks, talks, talks. She hopes by Friday afternoon she can know something real that will come out of it.

Mike Fancher — The question that calls him is how to divine the future. How can he learn to be a better leader by being a better follower?

Jane Folpe — She is at Columbia journalism school. “What do we need to be doing to be useful, to get ahead of the change and provide some of the tools and information to the people who come through our doors. How can we be diverse and reflective and inclusive.” What she wants to bring home is a very full notebook of ideas and guidelines to go forward.

Sue Sallinger — An 18-year-broadcast veteran. She produces an independent half-news magazine for FreeSpeech TV. Her question: What happened to the press in the last six years? What can we do to put the best values of the past into the new media? There are very committed people in independent media but very few journalists. How do we pull values into the new media? She’s looking for partnership.

Esther Thorson and Margaret Duffy — Esther: “Our school is in a turmoil of ideas” as a result of a gift from Reynolds. At the Reynolds Institute they are looking for exciting partners to get things done. At heart, she is a researcher. She wants to apply research to the burning questions of journalism. Margaret: Need to understand how and why people are making choices of what media they consume, and give them the right product and still fulfill a journalistic mission.

Karen Toering — Works for Reclaim the Media. Where are the people of color? But she wants to know who is here now. The best possible outcome.

Granville Williams, of Upton, West Yorkshire, calls himself an “interloper” as a last-minute registrant. In the U.K. they are running a program about journalism quality and it asks: Who will ask the questions when we are gone? Campaign for Press and Broadcast Freedom in the U.K.

Dave Zeeck, executive editor, The (Tacoma, Wa.) News Tribune, and current president of ASNE — He is representing himself. The title of the meeting brought him here: Journalism That Matters. The subject is captivating and meaningful. The bigger question is: What is journalism for? Also reminded of a question Geneva asked: How do we do journalism that is worthy of the First Amendment? The best outcome would be finding things to take back into his work.

Pam Johnson, executive director, Reynolds Institute at the University of Missouri. People are even more resolved to make a difference than last year. There are more people and more buy-ins. At Missouri, faculty are intellectually divided about how to overhaul journalism curriculum to serve the future — at an impass about how to proceed with “convergence.” She hopes to pickup some ideas that will help inform that discussion.

Mac McKerral — started out as a junior-high-school history teacher, then switched to journalism and wound up at the Decatur, Ill., Herald. He wants to know if there is a way to direct journalism back to aplace where it has public respect and re-emphasizes its public-service function?

Chris Peck — He wants to find the heart for change. It’s a hard time to be a leader in mainstream media. Corporate ownership demands high returns because of demands of Wall Street. The reformers say you’ve got to change because you’re letting us down. It is a real pincher to be in the middle there. Is my time done? “It’s a real question that is rippling through newsrooms today. Is my time done.”

Ken Schreiner — Focused on keeping journalism a conversation.

David Messerschmidt — Has been lecturing with the Evans School of Public Affairs.

Jacque Clement — Fair media council — She looked over the paperwork — you are talking about issues I deal with everyday. What do all you folks know that I don’t know that I need to know? I’m here to steal your intelligence.

Jim Shaffer — Media executive business side reincarnated as an academic. Adaptive leadership student. Wants to merge what he knows about media economics and adaptive leadership.

Stephen Silha — co-facilitator. Burning question about what we pay attention to as media and culture evolve. Desired outcome: that everyone leave with strategy to do things differently, tell whole stories, mentor (and be mentored by ) the next generation.

Neil Ralston — Teaches journalism at Western Kentucky University and is also on the board of the Society of Professional Journalist. What new and different things do I need to teach students?

Geneva Overholser — Had been discouraged. A couple of years ago resolved to find hope. When you open yourself to possibility you are willing to experience stuff you haven’t experienced before. “I found myself a few months ago thinking I’d like to go to that media-reform conference.”

Neal Peirce — Hadn’t been to a journalism conference for a number of years. Attracted to come in part by the participation of several editors of papers that ran earlier “Peirce Reports” (Citistates Reports)– newspaper series focused on strategic issues for metropolitan regions. Wants to learn to take what the JTM convenings are doing and apply it in new ways.

Farley Peters — Not a journalist, but curious. People have very few places to go to have conversations about regional issues.

Steve Anderson — How can we fund public-service media? Are their alternatives to corporations — alternatives to funding and ownership.

Bill Densmore — Started in started in journalism as a way to pollinate ideas, to get important conversations going and then stand back and watch where they go — reporting along the way. “And it occurred to me a couple of years ago that it might be time to take that approach with the journalism business itself. Can we think our way to a future that re-engages the public in an active democracy and how do we sustain journalism as a tool for that? The best-possible outcome: That we can all leave here with a new point of view about media reform — that we have a common purpose with the reformers in maintaining that active democracy — and that we need to invite the reformers into the conversation about maintaining and re-invigorating journalism that matters.”

Peggy Kuhr — In the university system she things about journalists that matter. What is journalism in the 21st century? What is the role for journalism schools? In St. Louis she got inspiration and something real. She conducted an experimental class where students developed an after-school journalism camp for middle-school kids in a school in Kansas. How do you teach the First Amendment? What is their perception of news? The sixth-graders talked about why they couldn’t be in the news: “Because we would have to do something bad.”

Jonathan Lawson — Passes out literature and stickers. He has a sweetheart relationship with journalism. His grandfather was in it. This group seems also to have a calling about what journalism is about. A sense of the importance of quality of journalism for democracy and justice. What is the importance of democracy and justice to the making of quality journalism?

Otis Sanford: “I am a convicted journalist with no possibility of parole.” On Jan. 1, was editor for opinion and editor of the Commercial Appeal. He is hear at the invitation of Chris and invited him to stop by. Overall he is here because it parallels his new role at the CA. He wants to see how the media re-establishes and reclaims its voice. For newspapers to survive they have to establish their voice to parallel the community some days and be contrary to the community on some other days.

Steve Yelvington — He does horizon-watching and strategic vision role for a MSM company and is coming from a new-media perspective. “It seems to me that journalism is seriously in crisis in many dimensions at once.” A decline in readership and relevancy. The world has changed and we are all increasingly plugging into this continuous networked conversation. We haven’t figured out what journalism is in this climate of information routing around us all the time. He wants to leave with ideas or points of view that he didn’t have.

Aldon Hynes — An info-tech executive transforming himself into a political activist and blogger. He doesn’t consider himself a journalist. He drove down from Connecticut. He thought about Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. In the book he talks about what is quality? What is quality journalism? What about voice? “How do we help the voiceless find their voice.” Cole Campbell: Everyone in journalism likes to get things down into bundles. Best possible outcome: we call come away with our perspectives changed a little bit.”

Dianne Lynch — Dean of Park School of Communications at Ithaca College. Was head of ONA and watch executives of major news organizations tried to change. Now have spent three years understanding how 13 and 14 years olds develop their sexuality online. “The way kids learn and the way the think of themselves . . . has almost nothing to do with what we do in education, or in journalism.” They are building Second Life at Park. She thinks immersive media is the next big thing — and there is a huge opportunity for journalism. Park has just gotten endowed funding for a Center for Independent Media. It will engage questions around what does it mean to be independent media. There is a great job at Ithaca College, endowed and tenured for an executive director.

Chris Nolan — An editorial startup called Her business is to sell voices into larger news entitles. “I don’t think any of you people are going away.” She is concerned at online is being thought of as a threat. “I want you to stop calling what I do new. The Internet has been around for 10 years. I started my career on an IBM selection, I worked for the New York Post, . . . . There’s nothing new about me . . . stop it . . . I’m a journalist . .. I’m jazzed to be in the journalism business . . . and I’m happy to be out of the print business.”

Len Witt — Kennesaw State endowed chair. Talking about “public journalism” didn’t go down well 10 years ago. “Now we can talking about re-inventing journalism, and people want to know . . . so that’s a change.”

Peggy Holman — when Stephen and Peggy hooked up with this work it was a recognition of organizations and communities that stories we tell about ourselves shapes our behavior. Journalists are cultural story tellers. The stories she was hearing and seeing weren’t working well for her. She hooked up with Stephen and with Cole Campbell who introduced them to Chris Peck. How do we support journalists in their role of being collective story tellers around a story that creates healthy communities and a healthy world.

Katherine McDaniel — Yale Law School. she studies new media. She is a blogger but isn’t a journalist. She is interested in how law and legal policies intersect journalism; how they foster or silence speech.

Aidon Katz — executive director of the Information and Society Project. Studies municipal wi-fi. Want to understands where the concerns are and the bottlenecks in the law.

Pam McAllister-Johnson from Western Kentucky University. She is here to convince her faculty how important things are. What direction they should be going in terms of their curriculum.

Hanson Hosein: Former network news journalist. He does documentaries. He wants to get into the academic world and he wants to see what the future is in journalism for non-journalists

Chris Peck — CLOSING THOUGHTS — Three threads heard:

  1. If you think chaos, and it is over, well that’s one approach. The other approach is that there is tremendous opportunity.
  2. What do you take from the history and traditions of journalism that might be carried forward into the future? As an example, think about the cotton industry.
  3. The third is the notion of voices that need to be heard. Memphis is a majority African American community and a newspaper that has had a long history of being a very proud Southern institution. The question of who gets to be the voices is critical.