Sunday, February 22, 2009

Changing the Central PA Media Landscape: Daniel Victor

I grew up in a world where the media landscape consisted primarily of radio, television, newspapers, and magazines. When the Internet came along, it was something I had to "learn." I feel fortunate that I've been able to embrace and spend time with new media, and have spent a lot of time researching the relationship between old and new media. Sadly, the aforementioned "old media" have been slow to embrace "new media." In fact, it's not just a slowness that characterizes the attitude of traditional mainstream media; it is often a fear. And it is a fear, coupled with the opinion that the new media landscape (Internet, social media, texting, etc.) is a flash in the pan. I've heard more than one old-school newspaper/tv/radio person talking about things like Twitter or Facebook as "just a fad." It's 2009, folks. Get with it. I'm pretty sure the Internet isn't going anywhere.

One of the biggest factors leading to a fear of the new is the issue of monetization. If you want a newspaper, you go out and buy it at the local Turkey Hill, or subscribe and have it delivered to your home. Money changes hands, and you get your news in return. But traditional media has worried about just giving content away for free. While people are willing to shell out money for a hard copy of the paper...they generally expect to get things for free on the Internet. Traditional media is in bad shape, and they need to embrace new media and create innovative business models that allow for convergence and cross-platform content. Radio, Television, and magazines have all followed suit in this fear and slowness to embrace new media, and as a result, they are all hemorrhaging audience, revenue, and jobs. I'm convinced that those in the traditional media that DO embrace the new media ("new" being a relative term), will be the ones that survive and even flourish in this new cultural/economic/technological world.

Having said that, I'd like to introduce you to my friend Daniel Victor, a reporter for the Harrisburg Patriot-News who is trying to take his old media background into a new media world. A quick aside: when I call Daniel my friend, I need to disclose that he and I have only really met once. The majority of our interaction has been online via Twitter. He is a part of my social media community, and in the same way media is being redefined by the Internet, so is the concept of "friends." While we don't hang out and socialize in "real life" on a regular basis,  Daniel and I are a part of an online community of people that I would describe as friends. And I'm confident that if there comes the time when we DO get together, we'd be very comfortable in each other's company. Besides, we share a love of all the same sports teams, particularly the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies. (Forgive me. That phrase still makes me giddy.)

Daniel Victor has been thinking out loud for some time about how to incorporate his use of social media, particularly his blog and Twitter, into the reporting process. And a big part of this concept is the democratization of the journalistic process. Daniel will be including his readers in the editorial selection of the stories he decides to cover. Back in January he blogged about his ideas for this type of reporting. Since then he has been given the go-ahead to move forward with his "community-direct" mojo reporting experiment. In effect, Daniel has been able to do what all of us dream about: he created and defined his own job. But you can bet he'll be under a lot of scrutiny from his superiors. I have no idea how this will turn out for Daniel, but while I'm sure he has some old-school colleagues that expect him to fail, I really would love to see this succeed. And I want to see it succeed to the point where newspapers around the country take notice. 

So WHY is Daniel doing this? The bottom line, he tells me, is that he wants to "see better stories in the paper, or stories that would have otherwise never made it." But that's just the immediate goal. In the long run, Daniel says, there is a lot more at stake:
There's a lot I want to accomplish or prove on the periphery, too. There are a lot of principles at stake here, things that are really going to determine what role a professional news organization will play in the future. Can a news organization really connect with readers on a genuine level? Can it not only acknowledge that readers have a lot to offer, but also gather, curate and present that value to other readers? Are we willing to do that?

If this works, it's a compelling case that readers can be an important part of the production of the newspaper, in a way that aids journalists, not threatens them. We could use that knowledge in a variety of ways in the future. And even if it doesn't work, we'll learn a lot from this.
Daniel is now on this journey, and I can't wait to see where it takes him. His latest discussion of what he is doing is in the Sunday Harrisburg Patriot-News and on PennLive.com under the title "My New Assignment Editor? You, the Community." 

If you are in Central PA and want to follow him on this journey, make sure you check out Daniel's blog on a regular basis, and follow him on Twitter (@bydanielvictor). Social media and blogging are central to this whole process (he'll soon be creating a new blog on PennLive.com specifically for this task), so hopefully you will become a part of the editorial process and have Daniel work for YOU, all the while helping him prove that this concept can work. I'll let you know when the new blog is up and running.

1 comment:

Daniel Victor said...

Thanks, Ken. I appreciate the write-up and support.

Feel free to use the blog to pitch stories like "Send Daniel to a Phillies game."