the title of this conference is Restoring the Trust, but I
wonder if it has more
to do with
restoring the identity
and restoring the sense that you as a newspaper or a publication
or a weblog, you build an identity with your readers and they thereby
build their identity around what you are doing.’
Wall Street Journal Online
Direct Feeds From Citizens at the Scene [See David Gyimah’s
view of the future at ViewMagazine.tv by visiting his website
Jay Rosen: Okay, so that’s
a vision of the future that says it could look like magazine
journalism plus broadcast journalism
plus web, all sort of working together.
Bill Grueskin, Managing editor, Wall Street Journal Online
Building an Identity With Readers
Bill Grueskin: My vision
of the future came to me while on a subway in New York a couple
weeks ago.. . on the subway nowadays,
you really look people over, and I was watching one woman. . .
she had two things in her hand. One was this newspaper called A.M.
New York—it’s a very popular free tabloid and the other
thing was this stuff, which is called ‘vitamin water’ —do
any of you drink vitamin water? She was reading this newspaper
like it was the last chapter of The DaVinci Code and she was drinking
this stuff like it was the elixir of the gods, and it kind of made
me think two things: one was . . .it wasn’t that long ago
that people would pay for this [the free tabloid] and get this
for free [the costly water] . . . but then what I really thought
about was. . . why would anybody pay $2.99 for a bottle of this
stuff—okay, 1.99; the profit margin . . .must be—I
went and bought one and brought it to my office and I asked people
under 30 working for me and I said, what is it about this stuff,
and one of the women said, it shows who you are, you drink this,
it says something about you. . .what interested me, I thought about
it some more, and it used to be that what you read said something
about you, that what you read used to really define who you were
in many ways. And I say that as editor of a website that is a subscription
We have just a little under 750,000 subscribers.
One thing I’ve
found about the Journal is that, for a lot of people, it is part
of their identity. . . . I think that’s been true for a long
time about newspapers. . . I know the title of this conference
is Restoring the Trust, but I wonder if it has more to do with
restoring the identity and restoring the sense that you as a newspaper
or a publication or a weblog, you build an identity with your readers
and they thereby build their identity around what you are doing.
So when you ask what’s going to get
bigger, I think. . . people are going to build their identity
around what other people
are writing. And yet this is a challenge for the mainstream media
guys like me to figure out how are we going to adapt our journalism,
and especially our websites in order to enable people to be part
Jay Rosen: We’re going to move right to Chris Nolan, who
is in the midst of trying to build her own operation online. When
you look at what’s going to happen with the craft that you
love, with the world that you’ve been a part of as a journalist,
what do you see?
Chris Nolan, Stand-alone online journalist
How People Consume News Has Changed
Chris Nolan: I see a lot
of things. . . All right. The one thing I want to start out by
saying is, there are a lot of people who
read the Wall Street Journal . . . but as someone who wrote for
the New York Post for a very long time, I’m here to tell
you that there are lots of those people out there too—they
just don’t talk about how they used to read the New York
Post. And that, my friends, is one of the conundrums of journalism
in urban markets.
I see a bunch of things going on, but the
main thing I see is probably your worst nightmare, which is that
identify and readers don’t identify with one site, one publication,
one place. That they start to surf and surf aggressively, and they
move through websites not as you, as newspaper editors or educators
of journalists prefer to think of them as these entities, but they
sort of clip along, clippety, clippety, because they’re using
a technology called RSS, which stands for ‘really simple
syndication’. And it allows them to read the headlines the
way we in newsrooms have forever read the AP wire. “Oh, that
happened? Oh, cool. Okay, we’ve gotta move somebody over
That’s how people outside, who consume and read what we
in the newspaper business have been producing for the past twenty
years now get their news. It’s a big change. It’s only
going to get bigger.
I am building a website that is a collection
of voices on the web that is designed to take advantage of this.
How am I going
to do that? I am hoping that I am going to get some help from big
media, because what I’m going to say is, I have voices. My
voices are popular. Would you like my popular voices to appear
in your not-so-popular newspaper? Perhaps you will become more
It’s a pretty basic strategy, but it’s based on the
idea that readers go to voices, and readers go to information that
is presented in a new way, because information is ubiquitous. And
I don’t see that stopping. I mean, we’re in the midst
of it right now, and it is the most frightening thing to people
like Bill and the Wall Street Journal and even more so, to the
New York Times.
But it’s absolutely enervating to people like me who spent
much of their career in places like the New York Post, where it’s
like, “Okay, let’s go get ‘em!” So, that’s
what I see.
Jay Rosen: Craig, I suspect you were invited here not because
you were a journalist or are really doing any journalism yourself,
but for what you might know about trust, which is the theme of
this conference. So, when you look at where the world is going
and where the world of trust online is going, and try to envision
the future of your own organization, what are you seeing?
Craig Newmark, Founder, Craigslist.com
Newspapers Once Again as Centers of Community Service Instead
Craig Newmark: I’m very aware that I’m speaking,
in a large respect, with some ignorance because I’m pretty
much a dilettante in these matters.. . . one reporter asked if
I was the anti-Christ of the print media. . . given the work I
do on Craigslist as a customer service rep, fortunately I’ve
become real optimistic about people. Combine that with my rich
fantasy life and here’s my take on things:
It used to be, from what I’ve
read and from what a lot of people in the business have told
me, newspapers used to be regarded
as a community service.
That’s how we perceive ourselves. We’re not a nonprofit—we’re
almost all free, but we are, on paper, a for-profit—and the
deal is that, when it comes to newspapers, they used to be perceived
primarily as providing the public with a service, even way back
in the mid-1700s when pamphlets were the big deal—I guess
that’s the earliest form I know of citizen journalism.
Nowadays, from what people who seem to
know the news business a lot more than I do tell me, is that
newspapers are increasingly
perceived as profit centers. So in my optimism, I see this whole
movement—that of citizen journalism, that of the destructive
economics—as maybe changing the focus back for mainstream
news on being community service rather than a profit center. That
may not make Rupert Murdoch happy—although I have been impressed
by his appearances on The Simpsons.
Putting Some Attitude in the News
Other trends I think I see, especially
when I talk to the youth—remember,
the most trusted name in news among the young demographics. . .
is The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. This may not be music to one’s
ears but you know, he takes chances, he tries to tell the truth.
This makes a big difference. I do think news with an attitude will
become more and more important.
A couple weeks ago I was in London and
for the first time, reading the British press seriously, the
Guardian, stuff like that. These
guys have attitudes, they’re biased, you know what their
biases are, and they’re often smartasses, with which I can
identify, and the deal is that I think that’s going to be
a big trend in news.
I think in our country we’ve had an experiment in what’s
called objectivity, but Dan [Gillmor] over there wrote this essay—I
think it’s called “The End of Objectivity”—and
I think we’re going to replace that with something which
I guess is just plain fairness. I think that will change things.
Chris Nolan: One reason
the UK press is the way it is, is because it’s so competitive—I
mean, how many papers were you reading?
Craig Newmark: Well,
Chris has a good point and maybe the UK press is competitive
because different papers have distinct attitudes.
. . when any of us read stuff or listen to the news, we’re
often looking for attitude, for point of view, something which
isn’t just bland.
sometimes you know, when someone is reporting the news. . .
well, the best example is the White House Press Corps, where
I’ve spoken to people and they say they know they’re
being lied to, but they can’t say it. I don’t know
why, but maybe that’s the illusion of objectivity. . .
Using Technology to Post the Most Trustworthy Version
There are new technologies
that are going to promote these trends. People are starting
to develop now, in the sense of getting funding,
websites which will do things. . . people are trying to build the
mechanisms, which will extract out of the news, what are the really
big stories that are happening, and what are the most trustworthy
versions of those stories. I’m hoping they also add follow-up
to that. . . sometimes I see really big stories that are in the
news one day, and then disappear the next. Those are happening,
and frankly, me personally, I’m considering a microscopic
investment in one of them. Just to make that perfectly clear, that’s
Craig talking, not Craigslist talking. . . .
And finally, technology changes.
My instincts tell me that in a few years we may have these
little itty-bitty flexible displays
come online, that you can actually roll up. If those start becoming
integrated into cell phones, that’s going to change the news
business somehow, and that kind of thing may catch us all by surprise.
Questions from the audience:
Q: Craig, I’ve seen you quoted as saying your aim is not
to destroy the conventional base of newspapers, but you can see
how, to a degree, that’s happening. . . you’ve said
you’d consider including quality journalism or endowing a
journalism institution. . . which, if any of those, is true?
Craig Newmark: Right
now, we don’t know what we’re
doing, frankly. . . something needs to be done, it’s incumbent
upon us, so we’re exploring things. For example, I fantasize
about—personally, not Craigslist—sending money to the
Center for Public Integrity or the Center for Investigative Reporting.
. . . the deal is, maybe my role in this personally is just to
make noise, accelerate the movement. . . and then maybe I just
stop talking then, because I’m out of my depth. . . there
is a possibility of seeing a personal announcement in the near
future of supporting one activity out there. . .
How Craigslist Built a Sense
. . And What
Newspapers Can Learn
Q: Craig, what can you tell journalists, from your experience
building Craigslist, about building a sense of community at their
And Bill, what does the average reporter at your online WSJ think
regarding building community/trust online? What does your newsroom
think about citizen journalism?
Craig Newmark: Without
trying to, we feel we’ve built a
culture of trust and goodwill—a lot of it has to do with
turning over control of our site, for the most part, to the people
who use it. . . a lot of it has been through the obvious attitude
that we have when it matters. For example, a lot of people have
noticed that when something bad happens—there are some bad
guys out there—we get real passionate about the Bill of Rights
kind of issues. And again, we just try to turn over more and more
power and control over to people and to provide, oh, unthinkable
levels of customer service. There’s a lot more to it, but
that’s the gist.
Jay Rosen: What if, to produce more trust online, newspaper organizations
were required to turn over more control to users?
Chris Nolan: Newspaper organizations could do what Craigslist
does, which is to let people write their own classified ads online.
And they would find that the cost of a classified ad would be substantially
There’s no magic to what this guy has done. I know you
guys are all scared of him, but he’s a really nice guy!
Bill Grueskin:. . . first
of all, most reporters wouldn’t
even know what you’re talking about, citizen journalism.
. . . One of the things I’ve wondered about is whether the
collective wisdom of citizens can be utilized to do journalism.
. .part of it is, somehow, capturing the energy and wit and wisdom
of the people in your town in a way that is a benefit to everybody.
Newspapers could do it right now, and if they don’t, then
Craig will do it in a couple of years.
Jay Rosen: There are start-ups based on this premise. . . BackFence.com
is the most well-known; there are others who are trying to get
to that level of information. . .
Where Does Traditional Journalism Stand?
Q: Does the traditional
practice of journalism as we have known it—disinterested research, verification, peer-reviewed—have
any place in the future of the news media? All I’ve heard
about tonight is talk about content, technology, the like. I’m
feeling a little confused.
David Gyimah: . . . There
are people who are finding new ways, new discourses, getting
in touch with communities, and there’s
a rearguard battle from big institutions who can see them being
shipped away and are either beginning to re-evaluate in the way
they teach or are going back to basics. . . that’s exactly
what the BBC’s up to. The BBC, after the Hutton inquiry and
the weapons of mass destruction, has gone back to basics, big time.
In other words, we will not print a story until we evaluate and
get a third source and get a fifth source. . . to them, it’s
all good journalism. . . . As far as the BBC goes, there’s
a very defined way of doing things, and [they say] if you guys
want to go off and build communities, that’s great—we’ve
got our way, and that’s the standard way.
Jay Rosen: I believe
there’s definitely a future for verified,
reliable information. It’s always going to be important to
a certain group of people, especially those who can pay for it.
Journalism that existed in that way, before there was any mass
press, will go on. There’s always going to be people who
need reliable, verifiable information to trade with, to make important
decisions with. Those people will get it.
It’s whether there’s going to be that kind of verifiable,
reliable information available to the larger public—that
is what is in doubt. And I don’t think that that’s
in any sense guaranteed. We don’t know.
Craig Newmark: The whole
idea of having systems which allow both professional fact-checkers
but also just people in the public who
know stuff—that kind of stuff is being evolved and built
now, and that’s a big deal. If you get hold of Fabrice over
there [Fabrice Florin, NewsTrust] he can address a particular effort
going on. There are others. I’ve even spoken to the guys
at FactCheck.org about how they expand their mission. That’s
not to be confused with FactCheck.com. . . these mechanisms are
evolving, they are a really big deal, and I’d like to see
a lot more of FactCheck.
Putting the Trends in Context
Chris Nolan: One of the
problems with the conversation we’re
having now about the news business and what’s going on online
is that there’s almost too much to talk about. And that people
are getting their trends confused. There’s a bad economic
trend in the newspaper and big media business. There’s an
explosion of interest in what’s going on online. Many of
these things are coming together, and the side effects and the
ripple effects are uncomfortable for people who have been used
to doing things a certain way. That has a lot to do with the way
the Internet is affecting all of us. So, when you start to think
about what the future of journalism is, maybe it’s worth
looking back and thinking about how much has changed in terms of
how we’ve used technology in the past ten years. . . if you
think about that in relation to the news business, I find it helps
me drop these arguments into place a bit more cogently.