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Summer Portal • Manifesto• Report Outline • Side Stories • Glossary
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Repository of text from Manifesto that might be useful somewhere sometime

The digital media age has brought fundamental changes to the ways news and information is created, disseminated and consumed. The availability of new tools and platforms has fueled a decade of explosive growth in non-professional online media that has irrevocably changed the news and information landscape. Ordinary people are able to share their writings and, increasingly, their photos, audio and video, with a global audience, in formats indistinguishable from well-funded professional media. Public figures are learning that with reporting no longer limited to professional journalists, nothing is really “off the record.”

Even as new media technologies reduce the costs of production and distribution, which might be expected to increase local service, financial pressures are pushing the traditional media in other directions. The business model that once provided a close though hardly perfect link between news and community has fractured. All traditional media, including public broadcasters, are re-examining the fundamental structure of their work, but in the short term, it is general interest newspapers, especially in mid-sized and smaller markets, that are hit hardest by the shift. A wave of cost-cutting and layoffs in the newspaper industry across the country is having serious consequences.

In their focus on survival, newspapers and other traditional media are struggling to maintain their public service mission. The consequences are seen first in the most resource-intensive kinds of journalism. Newspapers and other traditional media are failing to educate citizens on the world outside the US, in a time of increasing globalization. Cutbacks in investigative journalism and other in-depth reporting have weakened their role as watchdog and their ability to cover serious social policy issues like education, gun control, and poverty. As newsrooms shrink, some local media can no longer guarantee comprehensive coverage of local issues and events. Editors are struggling to insulate editorial decisions from commercial imperatives to retain and attract mass audiences and advertisers.

Many hoped that the rich new participatory media world would address these shortcomings, inspiring residents to provide extremely local reporting, engaging hundreds of volunteers in journalistic investigations, and linking audiences easily to global perspectives. But while online discourse is flooded with criticism of the traditional media’s failings, much of it valid, there is increasing evidence that the combined efforts of blogs, community news sites, citizen journalism aggregators and professionally staffed online-only media are not filling the gaps left by the changes in traditional media structures:

  • community news sites studied are less interactive and open than expected, and both individual sites and aggregators focused on citizen journalism are falling short of their own targets for original reporting
  • almost all new online media are based on organizational and editorial models that are structurally unable to address the specific areas where traditional media is falling short -- international reporting, in-depth journalism and comprehensive local coverage;
  • both the volunteer energy and the commercial money fueling the growth of new media is overwhelmingly skewed towards coverage of politics and technology, leaving numerous issues, geographic areas and populations all but ignored.

We believe that the combination of new and emerging digital media technologies with the deep expertise of the best of the traditional journalism community has the potential to create a news and information environment in the United States and other countries that is richer, more engaging, and more representative than anything that existed previously while ensuring the accuracy, balance and completeness that is key to an informed population. But evidence is mounting that neither the free market nor the wisdom of the crowds will make this happen; it will require resources and coordinated efforts by civil society. We believe that entities not driven by the need for profits are destined to play a larger role in the support of quality news media going forward than they have previously in United States, which relies more heavily on commercial media for news than most countries. The eventual funding mechanisms will likely include mixed models drawing on such sources as crowdfunding, community and national philanthropy, advertising, independent editorial entities that sell content to advertising-supported publications, and related businesses that cross-subsidize expensive reporting.

We propose that the following principles should guide those interested in working towards the media the public deserves:

  • Start with the public

Understanding and meeting the needs of the audience and supporting the creation of high-quality, original content that meets those needs should be the top priority. The value and availability of the content to its target public(s) should drive design, not a predisposition toward any specific medium, technology or business model or the interests or existing capabilities of producers or organizations. New structures need to reinvent the indispensable roles of the editor as guarantor of coverage, continuity and quality.

  • Technology is easy, people are hard

There has been tremendous energy dedicated to new modes of dissemination and organization of existing information and much development of systems to enable individuals to function as content producers. The next step is to focus on enhancing the practice of journalism with multimedia, networked reporting tools and skills for professionals and amateurs alike. Flexible, cost-effective networks, tools and services are needed to give individuals and organizations of any size and type the ability to undertake and fund complex reporting tasks. These may be developed as separate entities or by media outlets who share them with the community. Business and editorial models may need to be developed separately.

  • Integration is innovation

The ability to combine and collaborate with people, technology and institutions with different skills and perspectives is key to moving beyond the limitations of today’s models. The best projects will build on and combine experience and expertise from many sources: professional media organizations, community groups, technologists, freelancers, and ordinary people. People and institutions that are able to bridge the worlds of technology, journalism, activism. management and revenue-generation of various kinds will be incredibly valuable, and should be brought in to support practical projects. Transnational, cross-disciplinary projects that bring different academic and non-academic perspectives from the US and other countries are key.

  • Think globally

The US media system is unique in the world; in this period of upheaval there is much to be learned from the experience of both advanced and developing countries. All projects should incorporate international experience and perspectives; multinational partnerships should be encouraged. This is important for research-oriented as well as practical journalistic projects. Global partnerships will be key to addressing the need for better international coverage as well.

  • End with the public (all of them)

Concerted efforts are needed to ensure that new media efforts serve the needs of diverse populations, not only the active, educated and wired. This means supporting new policy approaches to digital access and education, use of mobile technology and addressing credibility issues through news literacy education that helps the public become more sophisticated and demanding consumers of news, including the vast majority who will remain essentially passive. Representatives of under-served communities should be designed into all projects both as consumers and as producers of content.building on cost-effective, inclusive new methods, mechanisms and structures are needed to create high-quality content that corresponds to the needs of specific communities. They should draw on resources in existing media of all kinds, in community and c relevant available include mechanisms to meet the nebe developed with the public service needs of the audience driving all decisions,

addunderstanding and meeting the needs of the target public(s) is paramount; it must drive all aspects of program design and implementation * engaging relevant civil society and community organizations and media entities to avoid duplication and draw on existing expertise is essential, even if it requires persistent efforts to achieve support civil society organizations' use of new media in ways that promote not only advocacy but also independent reporting * the multiple roles of the traditional editor need to be fulfilled in some way * insist on building on existing tools and institutions, we need integration, repurposing and synergy as much as invention

  • cross-disciplinary collaboration and the desire to learn new skills are key to success in the networked environment
  • new models to use the power of the network to create quality content cost-effectively should be supported independently of their ultimate funding model * drawing on non-US experience and actively collaborating with non-US partners if appropriate is vital * address credibility issues by helping the public become more sophisticated and active consumers of news, including the vast majority who will remain essentially passive; * bridge the gaps between US and international experience, through joint projects, collaborative research, and projects that facilitate the sharing of content on both individual and institutional levels * seek cost-effective ways to enable professional journalists to use new technologies more effectively in their work * create new mechanisms to fund high-quality content that are available to all, rather than pushing journalists to be entrepreneurs * provide support networks that help small media entities work as effectively as large institutions, providing access to services such as training, legal support, insurance, and technical and editorial supportenhance the ability of existing through * support efforts within and without the existing public broadcasting system to push public media to exhibit leadership in meeting the digital challenge with a commitment to innovation, openness and rigorously monitored experimentation * Encourage both US and international collaboration and coordination on academic research in multiple disciplines, to promote work that builds on previously collected data These conclusions and recommendations are addressed in more detail in the remainder of the paper.

[RF: Ignore this - it will go in a different section of the paper and be reframed more positively] Many well-intentioned projects to address these problems are limited in their potential from the start. Media Re:public has identified the following characteristics that most often result in projects that do not adequately identify and serve the needs of a defined audience: * over-dependent on the inspiration and expertise of a single person or very small homogenous group * primarily driven by the interests or needs of the content producer(s) rather than the value of the resulting product to the audience * failing to acknowledge existing media (traditional or new) working in the same niche * defining success primarily by audience size and/or advertising revenue * not designed to take advantage of the best available technology, too dependent on a rigid technological model, or not structured to incorporate emerging technologies as they become available * unrealistic expectations of growth of audience, contributors, or both and inadequate evaluation systems * mismatched skill sets: most journalists are neither managers nor technologists, not everyone who is passionate about an issue is a good communicator, etc.

  • commercial online media are not rising to the challenge; they face the same limitations of online advertising to support extensive professional reporting staffs as traditional media; and In the United States, which relies more than any country in the world on for-profit businesses to meet its needs for news and information, the crisis created for traditional US news media by the Internet represents a growing threat to the ideal of a democratic public sphere.

These efforts should not be distracted by the ongoing discussions of “non-profit journalism” and “business models.” The most important quality of journalism is its independence, including of the venue that produces it whether commercial, nonprofit, paid or volunteer.

the fast-moving structural changes in the way information is disseminated pose an enormous challenge to the traditional news media, especially the commercial media, whose advertising revenues are dropping precipitously as online services are able to meet advertiser needs at a fraction of the cost.

A decade of explosive growth in online media, both amateur and professional, has changed the news and information landscape. Ordinary people are able to share their writings and increasingly their photos, audio and video in ways that are not only theoretically accessible to everyone on the Internet worldwide, but in formats that are technically on a par with those used by traditional professional media in the same space.

The "democratization" of media promised by these new tools has both exceeded and disappointed early expectations. The abundance of alternatives to traditional media sources make available . While there is much to celebrate and more to be learned about the efforts, there is increasing evidence that across the spectrum of topics and communities blogs, community news sites, citizen journalism aggregators and professionally staffed online-only media are not filling all the gaps left by the changes in traditional media structures:

  • community news sites turn out to be less responsive to the public than expected, and both individual sites and aggregators focused on citizen journalism are falling short of their own targets for original reporting
  • the overwhelming majority of online media sites are based on organizational and editorial models that are structurally unable to address the areas where traditional media is falling short -- international reporting, in-depth journalism and comprehensive coverage;
  • commercial online media are not rising to the challenge; they face the same limitations of online advertising to support extensive professional reporting staffs as traditional media; and
  • both the volunteer energy and the commercial money fueling new media outlets is overwhelmingly skewed towards coverage of politics and technology, leaving numerous issues, geographic areas and populations all but ignored.

New and emerging digital media technologies have enormous potential to create a news and information environment that provides the accurate, balanced and complete information we expect from the news media and much more. But we know enough now about the tendencies of the current traditional and altits efforts on projects that aim to support the creation of quality content not available from other sources while observing the following principles:

  • understanding and meeting the needs of the target public(s) is paramount; it must drive all aspects of program design and implementation
  • engaging relevant civil society and community organizations and media entities to avoid duplication and draw on existing expertise is essential, even if it requires persistent efforts to achieve
  • the multiple roles of the traditional editor need to be fulfilled in some way is critical
  • cross-disciplinary collaboration and the desire to learn new skills are key to success in the networked environment
  • drawing on non-US experience and actively collaborating with non-US partners if appropriate is vital

In addition to supporting original content creation, there are some system-wide types of intervention that deserve attention as well. These would aim to:

  • address credibility issues by helping the public become more sophisticated and active consumers of news, including the vast majority who will remain essentially passive;
  • bridge the gaps between US and international experience, through joint projects, collaborative research, and projects that facilitate the sharing of content on both individual and institutional levels
  • support civil society organizations' use of new media in ways that promote not only advocacy but also independent reporting
  • seek cost-effective ways to enable professional journalists to use new technologies more effectively in their work
  • create new mechanisms to fund high-quality content that are available to all, rather than pushing journalists to be entrepreneurs
  • provide support networks that help small media entities work as effectively as large institutions, providing access to services such as training, legal support, insurance, and technical and editorial supportenhance the ability of existing through
  • support efforts within and without the existing public broadcasting system to push public media to exhibit leadership in meeting the digital challenge with a commitment to innovation, openness and rigorously monitored experimentation
  • Encourage both US and international collaboration and coordination on academic research in multiple disciplines, to promote work that builds on previously collected data


These conclusions and recommendations are addressed in more detail in the remainder of the paper.

Your humble servants at Media Re:public [inserting Rob's comments] [RF: Move the old media part down and shorten] In the United States, which relies more than any country in the world on for-profit businesses to meet its needs for news and information, the crisis created for traditional US news media by the Internet represents a growing threat to the ideal of a democratic public sphere. Financial pressures on traditional media, especially general interest newspapers, has led to their failure to adequately serve the information needs of their audiences. Specifically, traditional media outlets are failing:

  • to educate citizens on the world outside the US, in a time of increasing globalization
  • in their role as watchdog, as they cut back on investigative journalism and other in-depth reporting
  • to cover serious social policy issues like education, gun control, poverty, etc.
  • to guarantee comprehensive coverage of local issues and events as reporting resources are cut to the bare minimum


[RF: Ignore this - it will go in a different section of the paper and be reframed more positively] Many well-intentioned projects to address these problems are limited in their potential from the start. Media Re:public has identified the following characteristics that most often result in projects that do not adequately identify and serve the needs of a defined audience:

  • over-dependent on the inspiration and expertise of a single person or very small homogenous group
  • primarily driven by the interests or needs of the content producer(s) rather than the value of the resulting product to the audience
  • failing to acknowledge existing media (traditional or new) working in the same niche
  • defining success primarily by audience size and/or advertising revenue
  • not designed to take advantage of the best available technology, too dependent on a rigid technological model, or not structured to incorporate emerging technologies as they become available
  • unrealistic expectations of growth of audience, contributors, or both and inadequate evaluation systems
  • mismatched skill sets: most journalists are neither managers nor technologists, not everyone who is passionate about an issue is a good communicator, etc.

On the level of policy, the philanthropic community could add its voice in support of network neutrality and efforts to improve the United States' miserable record in providing true broadband Internet accessible to the public, regardless of ability to pay.

even when unprofitable;


  • promote efforts to extend the true accessibility of broadband Internet to the public, even when unprofitable;


For these efforts to succeed, it is important to enable international linkages in all areas:

  • experiments in other media systems, including developing countries, are developing technologies and models that have applications in the US
  • the media are increasingly global, and the U.S. is not a market leader: contact and collaboration with scholars and practioners in other countries is critically important
  • international coverage, which is in decline in the U.S., can be improved and increased through collaboration with media producers of all kinds around the world

leverage the centuries of combined expertise and experience extant in the journalism corps, providing the tools and skills that will enable journalists to participate in the new environment when their current employers are reluctant or unable to do so;


  • support networked efforts that put public service function first and that use the best of new and existing media to create media that complements rather than competing with existing news media;
  • challenge existing public media to fulfill its mission in the new digital environment;

players and various models of al In order to realize this potential, concerted efforts are required by groups motivated by the

serves the public 

is needed to support an engaged, informed public



for complete are struggling to save their businesses. Professional journalists are desperate to save their jobs. Big entertainment and technology companies are building online empires designed to collect mass audiences, regardless of the content. Meanwhile, political and technology bloggers are talking to each other and their book agents about their growing impact. Citizen journalists are wondering just how long this will continue to be fun. The majority of the public is watching TV and paying little attention.

The goal of an informed public is not at the top of anyone's agenda. This is even more true for the less wealthy, less wired, less active public(s).

It is critical for those who care about an informed public to shift their focus from the self-identified needs of content producers new and old and focus instead on the needs of the audience for news and information. Projects to do this should aim to:

  • understand and promote the functions and qualities of news and information that will serve the needs of various communities, completely independent of the model of production or distribution;
  • discard the myth that the US media system was ever "perfect" and aim instead to build the best possible system going forward;
  • leverage the centuries of combined expertise and experience extant in the journalism corps, providing the tools and skills that will enable journalists to participate in the new environment when their current employers are reluctant or unable to do so;
  • support networked efforts that put public service function first and that use the best of new and existing media to create media that complements rather than competing with existing news media;
  • challenge existing public media to fulfill its mission in the new digital environment;
  • educate the audience to be better and more active consumers of news, recognizing that the vast majority will remain essentially passive;
  • promote efforts to extend the true accessibility of broadband Internet to the public, even when unprofitable;
  • support civil society organizations in developing their use of new media in ways that promote not only advocacy but also independent journalism

For these efforts to succeed, it is important to enable international linkages in all areas:

  • experiments in other media systems, including developing countries, are developing technologies and models that have applications in the US
  • the media are increasingly global, and the U.S. is not a market leader: contact and collaboration with scholars and practioners in other countries is critically important
  • international coverage, which is in decline in the U.S., can be improved and increased through collaboration with media producers of all kinds around the world


THE END