Thursday, September 16, 2004

NNA conference report 1

No wi-fi that I can find in the Adams Mark hotel, but free ethernet connection in the rooms. The weather here is clear and beautiful, making it all the harder to believe the destruction going on elsewhere. Sure wish I didn't have to fly back into Ivan's aftermath on Saturday.

The Adams Mark is on the 16th Street Mall, a beautiful pedestrian mall used also by hybrid electric alternative fuel-powered buses that are so quiet and un-smelly that you hardly know they're there.

Wednesday p.m.

The first conference session I attended was an update on libel law. In response to one sad story of a man who had a legitimate claim that he had been defamed, I remarked that "he needed a blog!" (The speaker had said that the man had declined the chance to submit his own verison of the story because he feared it being edited, and "he'd been edited enough" by that paper.) My comment was met with silence.

We we adjourned, one publisher of a weekly paper told me that blogs had no crediblity with him. His theory is that bloggers have nothing to risk therefore they can and will say anything regardless of truth value. He knows bloggers can be sued for libel, but they don't have assets or insurance. To his mind, that is what makes establishment journalists more reliable: they have a real fear of being sued. The bloggers that might be realiable and good, he said, he can't understand why they do it. They must be people who have too much time on their hands or can't figure out what else to do with their lives, he said.

Thursday a.m.

Good news: Dean Singleton gets it. Singleton, who began working as a reporter at 15, and bought his first newspaper at 21, is CEO of the MediaNews Group, the seventh largest newspaper company in the United States. As a major player in the major media field, active in the Newspaper Association of America (the trade association of the large-scale papers), he brought one message to this convention of community newspapers, many of which are weekly or semiweekly: You too can, and must, enter the 21st century through much more sophisticated and interactive use of technology. Some of what he said:

We have tended to look at online services as a financial story, but what is really happening is a social revolution. The nature of relationship, al kinds of relationships, is changing on a scale never seen in history, or imagined. With 149 million Americans with web access, being online is simply becoming a part of how we live. A massive transfer of power. As more people have access to more information, the reatlaionship with those who used to own and disperse information is dramatically altered--no matter who is the owner. We must be part of this shift. We need to be so immersed and intertwined that we are both a driver and beneficiary of change. We do that by accelerating and refining the synegeries beweteen the web and print. There is major potential in interactivity. If you run a story about a proprety tax increase, readers can go online and find out what it means to their house. If there's a wreck on highway readers can go online to find drive times. We have to move and move faster from a passive experience where our readers can just scan the screen to getting them actively involved in the process and at same time involved in our newspapers activily. If we just transfer the content of old media to new media, that' not going to cut it. We got blindsided by first wave of the internet and it took along time to catch up. We can't afford to get smacked again.

There is no obstacle I can see that prohibits smaller newspapers from replicating the same things the big ones are doing, and I think you can do it better.

Another part of what he had to say involved a pitch for greater "media consolidation"--the joint ownership of print media, ratio, TV, the works. That is a major part of what he does. I'm not so with him there . . . but I'm very glad he said what he did about interactive communities.

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