Interview notes: Jeremy Iggers/Jackie Hai

Submitted by jhai on Sat, 02/28/2009 – 8:54pm

Conversationalist 1: Jeremy Iggers

Conversationalist 2: Jackie Hai

JEREMY IGGERS is Executive Director of the Twin Cities Media Alliance and founder of the Twin Cities Daily Planet in Minneapolis, a collective of citizen and professional journalists.

1. What is the story of your work and how did it lead to saying “yes” to this gathering?

Jeremy: “I worked for over 23 years for a daily newspaper and just became increasingly frustrated with the difficulty of doing the kind of journalism I wanted to do. One day I heard about a citizen journalism newspaper in South Korea (Ohmynews) and started thinking about creating one in Minneapolis. That led to me founding the Twin Cities Daily Planet and Media Alliance. We’re doing OK so far but I realize that for an experiment like ours to survive we need to evolve. So I’m coming to this conference hoping to get ideas — how to evolve, how to find audiences, what financial models are out there.”

Jackie: My experience in college media has been like a microcosm for the world at large, as our school paper has been experiencing many of the same problems as newspapers across the country in the transition to the web. I’m interesting in meeting more people in the field and learning from them, plus sharing what I know as a “digital native.”

2. We’re well beyond the debate that journalism is changing. Tell me about an experience you’ve had with these new realities – roles, tools, relationships, economics – in which the emerging news ecology actually made a difference in telling a story that mattered. What did that experience teach you about the gifts of both new ways of working and the traditional roots of journalism?

Jeremy: When the Republican National Convention was in the Twin Cities last summer, Jeremy’s editor and several citizen journalists got arrested during coverage of the protests. The experience “showed how much more we were able to keep track of what was happening. Speed and versatility, the ability to get media up on the site very fast… that was a real eye opener.”

Jackie: Back when the financial crisis was first coming to a head in October last year, we noticed that too many students had no idea what was going on. We decided to address the problem by producing a video package called Market Meltdown 101, featuring in-depth interviews with economics professors presented in an extremely browsable fashion tailored for web audiences. The experience showed that we could achieve one of the traditional goals of journalism — to inform a community — through new platforms and methods.

3. Without being humble, what do you value most about yourself? What do you see yourself bringing to this meeting?

Jeremy: “On my homeground, my biggest strength is that I’m a connector. I’m a pretty good networker, I’m good at bringing people together and make them collaborate.”

Jackie: Similarly, I’ve been called a “coalition-builder.” In January I organized a student media summit at UMass that brought together for the first time our school’s four major news outlets — the print newspaper, television station, radio station and online magazine — to open channels of communication and work on collaborative projects together.

4. What is it about journalism without which it would cease to be journalism; what is its essential core? What are you ready to let go of?

Jeremy: “I may be ready to let go of journalism if the essential core of journalism is the news report, the reporter gathering information and packaging it for an audience. I think there are ways in which the ideas of journalism are holding us back. The digital revolution has made it possible for people to share information in a lot of ways. There’s a struggle between how traditional and innovative we should be. I got into journalism by being a restaurant critic; I got acknolwedged as an expert on Twin Cities restauruants. One of the things I see emerging now is tools, like the Zagat guide, that aggregate the experience of many individuals. When you create a platform that lets people inform each other directly, it’s a self-correcting thing… so there’s the tension that I’m wrestling with.”

Jackie: I see the essential core of journalism as a service that helps people make sense of the world, something that will become even more vital and necessary in this new digital age. The Internet is a sea of noise and information, most of it chaotic and unordered. It will take a new breed of journalists trained to even higher standards for journalism to stay relevant in these times. I’m ready to let go of the old rigid models and platforms that no longer work.

5. The year is 2014 and the new news ecology is a vibrant media landscape. What is journalism bringing to communities and democracy that matters most? What steps did we take back in 2009 to begin to bring this about?

Jeremy: “1) We figured out how to pay the bills. 2) We figured out how to open up the process while maintaining credibility and quality control, respect for accuracy and fairness. 3) We figured out how to involve many more people in the process of contributing to newsmaking while maintaining accuracy and relevancy and fairness.”

Jackie: Local news organizations are a hub of information for the communities they serve, the place people go to for information about what’s going on in the place they live and how to connect with their neighbors. As for paying the bills, we began thinking outside the box and started finding ways to deliver information in packages that people find valuable, beyond subscription models and per-article micropayments. One example is something that bloggers outside of journalism (primarily in the self-help industry) have already begun embracing as a successful revenue stream: e-books. I think given our resources and skills, there’s plenty of room for innovation in all directions.

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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