News Leadership 3.0

May 17, 2009

‘The thing we’re losing is far from perfect’

USC Annenberg journalism director Overholser offers 10 important observations about journalism today

Geneva Overholser opened Knight Digital Media Center’s News Entrepreneur Boot Camp Saturday with a terrific list of 10 observations about journalism. No. 3 resonated most with me. Here’s the full list:

1. “It’s the public. It’s the public, stupid.” Journalists need to hold themselves “accountable for the impact of what we do on the public.”

2. “Reinforcements are on the way” in the form of smart, creative students who are dedicated to journalism.

3. “The thing we’re losing is far from perfect.” The news industry “left out wide swaths of the community,” including women and people of color. “We didn’t listen. We created false equivalencies.”

4. “We need to keep the principles, not the rules.” And the last principle standing must be transparency.

5. “There are lots of legitimate ways of doing journalism.”

6. With props to Clay Shirky: “Nothing will work but everything might.”

7. Find ways to collaborate. Focus on what only your news organization can do.

8. Communities do need journalism. Play a leadership role in the community

9. “We are not alone.” Others, such as the film industry, are struggling with the changing media dynamics.
10. Help others report information, including non-governmental organizations on the frontlines.

Overholser closed with an admonition for those who are discussing the future of journalism:

“Resist the urge to pronounce. This is not a duel. It should be a debate about the next steps for journalism in the public interest.”

Overholser is Director of the School of Journalism at USC Annenberg School for Communication. KDMC is partnering with the USC Marshall School of Business and the Online Journalism Review to provide the intensive week long boot camp for more than a dozen journalists who are developing online news and information projects.



Great List! “We need to keep the principles, not the rules,” brilliantly articulated.

Yes, great list. I’d like to expand on point 3. No “new” general audience journalism created in the recent past—think, for example, alternative weeklies—has been ethnically diverse. All have been nearly all-white. Ditto with magazines. Without prompting, many of the best old and new leaders in our field often don’t notice that only white people, usually white men, are sitting around the tables, around the conference rooms contemplating and planning the future of journalism. This time around, when the potential loss and gain are so great, let’s not make that same mistake. Let’s think about who’s missing.

Thanks to both of you for kind word, and thanks to Betty for sharing with JAWS! I agree with your concerns, and would add that the debate about journalism’s future is also not representative. A lot of snark. As Susan Mernit said, “It’s dominated by 19-year-old males of all ages and both genders.” Not a great way to figure out the best, most inclusive, most democratic future for information in the public interest!

Thanks Geneva and Betty for raising #3.  I remember running newsroom diversity audits at a Knight Ridder newspaper in the mid-1990s, and despite some efforts, there was never complete buy-in for truly covering our diverse community in a full and accurate way. As a result, the numbers were basically the same year after year. People of color have always shared about the news of importance to them within and amongst their own communities; the mainstream just isn’t tapped into those channels.  I think New America Media does a great job of bridging that gap ( 
Maybe it’s the idea of a “general audience” that needs to be challenged. I see commentators bemoaning the loss of the general audience publication, but given that that audience was never very representative, why is its demise such a great loss? Are there alternatives to “general audience” that can truly serve the people, by building on where folks already go to meet their information needs?

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Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

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