Clarity for a confused public: Using new tools while bringing the values of the past

Submitted by PeggyHolman on Thu, 02/26/2009 – 11:11am

Session Reporter: Peggy Holman

Conversationalist 1: Tom Honig

Conversationalist 2: Peggy Holman

Tom Honig, former editor of the Santa Cruz Sentinel and I spoke on Tuesday, February 24th.  After more than 35 years as a journalist, Tom has been doing public relations for the past year.  I was struck by the value of his time away from the profession, providing perspective that will serve us all well at the conference. He told me that he misses being part of the fourth estate:

I went to the Newseum about 4-5 months ago.  It was the first time I had this crisis of confidence — I’m not one of them anymore.  It is difficult for my identity, to not say I’m part of the 4th estate.  Attending this conference is my way of fighting back.  It doesn’t do to sit around and lament what is happening.

He further reflected on what he is learning about perceptions of journalists:

The time away has been interesting, to read the paper the way others do.  I’ve been training people on public relations, how to present something in a way journalists will understand it.  People coming through the training fear journalists will get the story wrong. The reporters just miss the story. They don’t fear accurate journalism.

We also talked about what he values about the emerging news ecology…

As we moved to online at the Santa Cruz Sentinel, we weren’t innovators, we were close followers of trends.  In 2004-05, we embraced multimedia.  I bought a digital recorder and a video camera, paying for it myself to play around with it.  The goal, was for example, an early thing we did, a series on race in Santa Cruz.  We had a Q&A in the paper and a live podcast with the police chief.  We were trying to look at the best way through audio and video.  That succeeded to present day.  For the first time, with our tools, we could do coverage we couldn’t imagine 10-20 years ago.  We can compete with the metros.  When you have the tools, it can make you competitive.  What is frustrating now, you’re cut so much, not getting training or staff size to make use of the tools.

How journalism is changing…

I think the difficulty of people trying to do things themselves, journalism now is more a team sport now.  You need people with different gifts, front end work, storyboarding to figure out the best way to tell a story.  I miss the give and take.  I haven’t had the wearwithal to do a startup.  Maybe I’ll get some ideas, at the conference to do that.

And what he values about traditional journalism…

How do you really do the reporting to get an accurate story?  Not instantly posting something, the values of investigating, learning and explaining and thinking about the import of a story.  Crucial values, I see left out of the discussion as things change.

As you go through convulsive change, you have to look at what do you truly need to save?
When I worked with brilliant young people, that know more than I’ll ever know about gizmos and online tools, and page makeup and design, they do not have enough respect for what’s involved in good, basic, accurate, mainstream objective journalism.  I think sometimes, one thing I’ve thought about, all of us who are experienced know the situation of coverage of people you don’t agree with and giving them a fair hearing.  And being skeptical of those with whom you do agree.  Standards of the business.

The second part, how do you present complex, information in a way that most people can understand it?  Explaining science, economics, travel, politics; how do you manage to present the world as its proceeding in a way that’s understandable and clear?

After a great conversation, I look forward to meeting Tom in person.

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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