Quick reflections on last night's Future of Journalism forum.
The first 45 minutes of last night's news forum "Where Do We Go From Here" focused on the future of journalism. "New Orleans has gone from five years behind the times to five years ahead in two months," said the Poynter Institute's Kelly McBride. Once the questions started, we rocketed to the past as the first audience member asked if there was a future for newspaper (Answer: yes and no. Barron's and Wall Street Journal - sure. Hyperlocal, subscription-oriented papers - yes. The daily as we know it - no).
A number of questioners lamented the loss of a daily voice that they counted on, one asking in effect who was going to do their editing for them now. The implied answer a number of times was "you," and everyone was too polite to say that you are responsible for what goes into your head. One questioner's concern that this was going to lead to societal balkanization overlooked the fact that fragmentation built around separately held truths didn't have the decency to wait for The Times-Picayune to get out off the stage to start.
Her question pointed to a better question: what are people doing when they read the news? Are they consuming it to become better informed, or are they entertaining themselves? Cable news ushered in the possibility of watching the news as a way of being entertained, and the Internet has made it easy to collect stories like baseball cards. Some are reading broadly to better understand an issue; some are reading inside the echo chamber, feeling righteous and/or aggrieved, then moving on to Yahoo's headlines and what's up with those krazy Kardashians.
Jeanne Nathan asked where all the outrage had gone, but for all the thousands of words it took to ask the question, it wasn't clear in what context she meant. McBride correctly pointed out that these days, outrage is everywhere. Fox News and MSNBC specialize in ginning up outrage. If anything, we get outraged too easily. I wondered later if she was referring to motivate-people-to-march outrage, but as the LEH's Brian Boyles suggested in a conversation later, social media has bled off a lot of that energy. Now people can retweet and comment instead of pounding the pavement, and while that has value, it's not the same thing.
If Nathan was wondering why people weren't in the streets protesting the decision to cut The Times-Picayune to three days a week, I suspect it's because people who considered organizing a march realized that the people they would get would be older, whiter, middle class or better, and number in the thousands - results that would tell the Newhouse family that it had little to fear.
The frustration and anger New Orleanians expressed in the room is understandable and justified. In a consumer society, they did their part. They consumed and consumed well. They supported The Times-Picayune and made it part of their lives, and there's little more painful than doing everything right and losing anyway. But as Jamal Watkins from the Center for Social Inclusion (one of the stars of the night) pointed out, currently there is nothing that ties newspaper ownership to public service. As he said many times in the night, it's a policy question - should there legal requirements that accompany owning a media outlet? If that question is taken up, it will happen too late for The Times-Picayune.
Unfortunately, as of 7:37 a.m., it doesn't look like you can read the highlights at the improved Nola.com. If any of the T-P reporters who were in the room last night wrote it up, they haven't got it online yet.