Saturday, November 1, 2014

Duluth Media Meet & Greet Sows Seed Thoughts for a New Journalism

John Hatcher (left) with Jeremy Iggers during part 2.
Yesterday I attended a Duluth Media Meet & Greet event concocted by UMD associate journalism professor John Hatcher and Dana Thayer. The aim of the lunch hour gathering was to test the waters as regards how to better serve the community as journalists. The interesting feature here is that historically the various media channels seek to scoop one another and thus perceive their peers as adversaries in a competitive local market. The relatively unique notion being proposed here is that perhaps in light of the challenging manner in which the Internet has re-shuffled the deck, there may be benefits to throwing out the old ways of doing things and playing a new hand.

John Hatcher served as moderator for the gathering which took place at Teatro Zuccone in the Zeitgeist Building. Two presenters had been invited, the first being Jan Schaffer, editor and journalist with J-Lab of Philadelphia who joined us through Skype, followed by Jeremy Iggers, founder and executive director of the Twin Cities Daily Planet.

Jan Schaffer Skyped in from Philadelphia
Ms. Schaffer gave us a tour through the changing media landscape by noting trends. You could tell she had plenty to say, but the brevity of our time together was somewhat restrictive. Here are a few of the highlights regarding current media trends across the country.

1) Metro dailies are disappearing. The lack of a content model is part of the problem.
2) Media entrepreneurship is at an all time high.
3) Tech companies are moving into the journalism space. We saw this earlier this year with Jeff Bezos' purchase of the Washington Post, but one also can see the manner in which Microsoft and more recently Yahoo have made their presence known.
4) There's more comic book journalism taking place.
5) She mentioned news games making a resurgence.
6) More collaborations and partnerships happening.
7) Public media partnering with others.
8) New and interesting distribution channels emerging.

Jan Schaffer was there to encourage local media to find ways to work together. She cited a J-Lab report called Networked Journalism: What Works? and encouraged us to visit the J-Labs website to learn more.

Jeremy Iggers of the Twin Cities Daily Planet shared his personal story as a backdrop for how this 21st Century news site came to be. In the early 90's Iggers wrote restaurant reviews and an ethics column for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. He initiated or was part of a pre-internet era version of social media in which readers of the paper would interact with stories, an enormous task as it was conducted by mail. The experience, though expensive, taught him how much audiences want 2-way relationships with journalists.

Another experience that came from outside the box was a regular feature called "Oh My News" in which the readers became the reporters. Each point included an instructive story.

Eventually he created or helped create the online media center T.C. Daily Planet in conjunction with a collaboration between the Twin Cities Media Alliance and Ethics Media. Online media is a moving target, he noted. It's also a challenge as you explore what kinds of groups already exist.

A question and answer period moderated by John Hatcher followed. Is it possible for our local Twin Ports media to collaborate and build something greater than the sum of its individual parts? The audience for this event included not only representation from traditional media but a number of bloggers, which was interesting.

One final point was made by Mr. Hatcher, that they have set up an online media resource called Lake Voice News which offer stories for any of our media to utilize so long as we identify the source.

The meet and greet ended with strong encouragement to finish the food which had been provided on platters by the Zeitgeist Cafe.

* * * *

The impression I got from the event is that UMD leadership has recognized the importance of becoming more consciously linked to the community as opposed to being isolated from it in a monastical sense. Bill Payne and the UMD fine arts leadership has made conscious efforts in this direction in recent years, most visibly in the formation of the Twin Ports Arts Align. Hatcher indicated that now that the university has purchased the former Maurice's office building, the school will be more involved with the downtown community.

It waits to be seen how the seeds from this hour long program will take root in the minds of our various local journalists. It was certainly an interesting presentation, even if a bit brief. Thank you to those who made it happen. 

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