Friday, September 21, 2012

The way ahead for journalism

In the tumult and reinvention of journalism, there are moments when the way ahead becomes clearer.
One of those moments occurred Tuesday.
Kris Doubledee, a Winnipeg Transit driver, stopped his bus during the morning rush hour, got off and gave his shoes to a barefoot man on the street.
Denise Campbell, a passenger on the bus, emailed her work colleagues about this striking act of generosity.
One of those colleagues was Noah Erenberg, convener of the Community News Commons, a citizen journalism site.
He agreed with Campbell that this was a wonderful story about our community. Erenberg suggested a couple of editing changes and posted the story for the world to read.
Simply by telling her story Campbell became a citizen journalist.
Almost instantly, mainstream journalists phoned and emailed Campbell. Few of them credited the news commons in their reports.
Then, a couple of hours later, the Winnipeg Free Press laid off seven reporters and editors.
They were the youngest people in its roughly 100-person newsroom, the most energetic, the most engaged in social media.
They were also the most recently hired, and so they lost their well-paying jobs under the ironclad last-in, first-out rule in the collective agreement between the company and the union.
The Free Press newsroom just got older and less new-media-savvy.
It hurts to write this, because I have friends who remain in that newsroom who will have to work harder to fill the spaces between the dwindling ads.
I also have friends among the people who were dumped.
Five of those seven are graduates of the Creative Communications program at Red River College, where I teach journalism.
It hurts as well because the Free Press fired me, too.
Sixteen years later I remember how that felt, although I didn’t express my feelings as publicly or nearly as eloquently as Melissa Martin is doing.
None of this is to blame the current Free Press managers.
As the human resources message-bearer told the departing journalists, it’s not personal.
Nor is the newspaper completely stuck in the past. It is one of the primary partners of the Community News Commons, along with the Winnipeg Public Library and Red River College.
The Free Press also deserves credit for paying its reporters to cover City Hall, the courts, the legislature and other news sources, seldom receiving credit from people who reuse its information on Twitter.
But something became a lot clearer on Tuesday.
A modest citizen-journalism site broke a story that resonated widely, using simple media tools.
A big newspaper dumped its people who were the best motivated and equipped to use those tools.
Bottom line?
The work of some of my students will continue to appear in the Free Press. Mine too, I hope.
But we’ll be on the Community News Commons as well.
So will a lot of other citizens who see it as the way ahead for journalism.