Pre-conference interview Susan Moeller/Bill MItchell

Conversationalist 1: Bill Mitchell, who writes the NewsPay blog for Poynter, among other things.

Conversationalist 2: Susan Moeller

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

Bill’s new job at Poynter is focused on the transformation of news, especially emerging economic models. He’s now writing a blog called NewsPay and working with colleagues at Poynter on new economic models. How did that lead him to this conference? “I went to the Journalism That Matters conference two years ago in Washington and it was clear in that session that it was raising many issues that were relevant.”

What’s the difference between that conference and this one? “A crisper focus on economic models.”

Bill likes to approach a conference through a particular “prism” – in this case, economics. “Somebody might be talking about how to cover a school board when your education reporter has just been laid off but then I can make the extension that clearly this is journalism that matters, and how can we sustain that?

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?

“We just did a new book, a collection of front pages from the election. And we updated with pages from the inauguration. … It made me think about the first collection of front pages we did, which was following 9/11. It grew out of something we did online – taking jpegs of front pages and posting them to the site – but it was only because a user of the site asked when the book was coming out that we did a book. So it was a user-generated idea that … set the stage for us doing the book on Obama.”

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

“I think maybe integrity and honesty. I think I’m a fundamentally honest person and curious to a fault, not knowing when … to stop the reporting and start the writing. What I bring to this meeting, is maybe the curiosity and maybe the focus on economic models, which seems to be important for many people in this group.

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?

“I would draw the distinction between principles and standards.  I think there are core principles that can’t change and have it still be called journalism. The key ones would be independence, accuracy, fairness, transparency. But I think what I’m willing to let go of is the idea of uniform standards – that the same standard has to be applied to all the journalism we do. … A breaking news blog could have a different standard of accuracy rather than what you would choose to publish in a book, or even the print edition of a newspaper.”

A reporter would not be knowingly careless, he says, but might be posting with an editor reading behind him, without vetting ahead of time by a news- or copydesk.

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

Bill believes journalism and journalism organizations will be smaller and distributed widely in the future, more personal, more mobile. But that journalism will bring fundamentally the same things to “communities of democracy: news and information that people need for their personal and civic lives.

What can we do now? “The most important thing is that we figure out ways to sustain that kind of journalism, a way to create organizations that will remain, especially those tied to geographic communities, as well as communities of interest.”

Notes: I like Bill’s focus on economics, because in our newsroom right now, it feels as if that’s what it’s all about. The arguments about where we’re going seem to be over; now it’s about staying alive long enough to get there. And I like his approach of picking a “prism” before a conference – good strategy for those of us with ADD-style radar.

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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