We are asked to imagine a community without a newspaper as if it is a business decision for ordinary citizens. Actually, the community has spoken with its quarters and dollars and leisure time. They simply do not need an obsolete, resource-guzzling pile of paper in their lives, especially when something more practical is available at their fingertips via their home computers and mobile devices.
The ubiquitous fear of newspaper's demise and its systematic reporting through thousands of stories and opinion columns speaks to the problem of newspapers and its rapidly dwindling power to control the flow of news typically not in the best interests of the common person. I also leads directly to why news websites with very little overhead like The Citizen are the future of how news is disseminated.
The mainstream media, as we know it, is a cartel of billion dollar companies. Like every community of corporations, the bottom line and survival is paramount. We have seen this dogma bring enormous damage to the nation's economy. Newspapers, even in the so-called golden age of newspaper during the first half of the 20th century, have always had special interests in mind. Advertising, in some ways, has always tempered the tone of media coverage. We see it in the East Bay where coverage of the possible closing of San Leandro Hospital has been woeful and, at times, oddly silent. The Hayward Daily Review (it can be argued calls it editorial shots from San Ramon) and the San Leandro Times--the two top news resources in San Leandro--have both accepted checks from Sutter Health in return for large ads. Their lack of editorial common sense is appalling when you imagine the closing of San Leandro Hospital could possibly mean the untimely death of over 1,000 people without the use of emergency room facilities in the city. The San Leandro Times provides cursory coverage, while the Daily Review has published exactly one article on the subject since July. The mantra has been what will happen when a city or region loses all of its newspaper? The better question is what happens when the newspapers we have fail to cover anything at all?
The Internet and citizen bloggers have dealt the business model of newspapers a mortal blow. This is good for you. This is actually historic. It marks the return of the printing press to the people. Today, proponents of Net Neutrality keep the playing field level. As it stands today, the dream of every cub reporter hoping to be the next Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein can actually be realized by his or her own entrepreneurial convictions.
Flash forward now to see the future of journalism. It is viewed in three parts and contains nothing discernible to anything the media currently extols. Niche reporting, localized coverage and small-business ingenuity and innovation.
It does not resemble taking the same copy from the daily paper and recycling it in electronic form. It does not entail jazzing up the story with audio, video features and instant polls. In fact, it may not even contain trained journalists as the majority of its producers. A major aspect regarding the demise of newspapers and the eye balls that once scanned the broadsheet is the overall product. The writing is not bad, but through the constant filtering and lowest common denominator theory of producing a paper for all, what is left is a dry and colorless, just-the-facts-ma'am article. Where is the rich description of events and scathing humor that can enliven stories? What you read is neutered journalism and it makes reading a chore, something to digest like fast food, but carries very little educational nutrition. Millions of young viewers watch Jon Stewart mock the media and government while greatly informing viewers. If you believe humor and the dissemination of the news is unseemly, then go vote for the Academy Awards where comedy is frown upon as an example of the Oscar for Best Picture. The future of journalism will truly arrive when young writers who can meld the basics of reporting with the free and easy, immediate dimension of blogging begin to emerge from colleges across the country.
THE NUT TO BE CRACKED
So, what is The Citizen? I spent two years at Cal State-East Bay writing articles focusing on San Leandro politics as my beat. During that time, I interned at the Commonwealth Club of California in San Francisco. Writing, as they say, is easy, but reporting is what makes a journalist. You can't write without toiling with words every single day and can't report without making strong connections with people inside and outside your subject. I noticed, though, a disconnect between what I was learning and what I saw everyday following the media. Through learning the intricacies of reporting and the connections made at the Commonwealth Club, I believe The Citizen is the missing link. I listened one night as the former Time magazine columnist and anchor of CNN's Crossfire tell the San Francisco Chronicle's Phil Bronstein, he believed the vision of journalism's future--"the nut to be cracked"--would be created by someone unknown and local. He even joked it might come from the middle of nowhere. Maybe, Idaho. I doubt Mr. Kinsley has ever been to San Leandro.
Journalism will become no different than a small-business owner identifying a need for a service in an area of a city or small town. Better yet, a town could have the need for more than one shoe store because of demand for it. There could be a high-end demand for expensive heels in one part of town, need for cheap children's shoes in another, while little Johnny might want a pair of those popular new Jordan's. Everyone has their niche and succeeds. This is how journalism will operate.
The future of journalism will truly arrive when young writers who can meld the basics of reporting with the free and easy, immediate dimension of blogging begin to emerge from colleges across the country.
By everyone doing their particular niche well, the community will be far more informed and protected than at anytime since the founding of this country. It is why Benjamin Franklin's visage rests on the right column of The Citizen. He stood for a stiff, biting brand of opinion and satire that rallied the colonists against the King of England. In fact, the history of the American people from the beginning was rooted in an abnormally voracious appetite for news. Those ungainly broadsheets and messy inky fingers have merely been replaced by the common person asking questions of their leaders more efficiently and effective as bloggers and citizen journalists. The image of a young man in his underwear writing a blog in the basement of his mom's house is a mocking meme designed by media machines to ridicule the growing voice and reporting power of regular people.
EVERYONE HAS AN AGENDA
Every good newspaper has an agenda, they just choose not to expressly advertise it. You know the New York Times is liberal. Fox News is conservative. The Wall Street Journia is business-friendly. In England, newspapers are openly linked to various groups like labor and conservatives and some are even financially backed by some of the groups. These disparate groups represent niches in readership and customers flock to them. To some in the U.S., this loss of some sort of journalistic "objectivity" is a slap at the fabric of America. The thing is, it was never really put in practice. With the rise of bloggers, Americans are now fully acclimated to the British style of journalism. People now read what interests them. A liberal reader visit the DailyKos without ever thinking of clicking the National Review. We want our own convictions validated. This does not divide the nation as pundits will tell you, but further informs the electorate. If it did have an corrosive effect, then explain how a recent survey now says only 20 percent of Americans identify themselves as Republican? Only four years ago, George W. Bush garnered over half the vote for president. Are you going to tell me conservative voters only read right-wing websites and periodicals and decided to jump to Barack Obama's side because of Bill Kristol and Michael Barone?
The Citizen, too, has an editorial agenda and it is this: to watch, praise and criticize the levers of local government from the mayor's office, city council and school board to Sacramento with our assemblywoman and state senator, in addition, to our representative in Congress. We need to know what they are doing in our name and know when their representation no longer jibes with our needs and desires. Every story published in The Citizen is written with the idea the information will inform voters as they step into the voting booth on election day.
FOR THE PEOPLE, BY THE PEOPLE
With The Citizen, I hope to take the slice of the community dealing with politics and do it more efficiently and independent than any outlet in the entire East Bay. The Citizen stands for the people, it is a populist web site. It emphasizes leaders who are courageous in their convictions and lead by example, whereas, too often the leaders of this city participate in a political backslapping in the name of fair play. This does not get things done. The Citizen strives to highlight the decades-long racial disparity in the city. San Leandro has always been wildly successful in attracting female political involvement, but in a city and region bursting with Hispanic and Asian residents, the current power structure is alarmingly still white. Of course, The Citizen also stands for the future. San Leandro's will hopefully be one of the forerunners of reliable green technologies and businesses while becoming a focal point for the arrival of a young and vibrant creative class. It is imperative the city move from an older, bifocaled view of the world to the rose-colored lenses of young people and families.
In the coming months, the elections for the mayor's office and city council will prove the utility of The Citizen as it hopes to inform and shape the future for the city and one day soon its surrounding neighbors. I want to thank everyone who has already joined the revolution with their time and comments and look forward to attracting more followers in the coming months and years.
This treatise was written nearly one year ago and I'm proud to say every story written since has been honest to the mission of The Citizen. In the past few months, the hyperlocal theory of producing engaging journalism more efficiently than the stodgy legacy papers has been validated, although with the helping hand of billion dollar corporations. The emergence of the AOL-backed Patch group of local web sites in various parts of the country, including areas of the East Bay (not San Leandro, but nearby San Lorenzo and Castro Valley) illustrates models like the East Bay Citizen have attracted the eyes of people who believe the endeavor can make money. The Patch websites are run by a single journalist. They are quicker to the punch than legacy papers and sometimes infuse humor in their pages (although not as often as I would like). But, problematic differences remain. For instance, the forthcoming San Lorenzo Patch is written by a journalist from the East Coast. A recent article in the Castro Valley Patch reporting the building of Eden Medical Center sounded too much like a reporter who only recently learned of the issue with that hospital, Sutter Health and San Leandro Hospital. Enigmatic Eden CEO George Bischalaney, sensing this, gave the site an interview. The Patch is not perfect and lacks a local organic feel, but it does prove the main premise of the what I wrote last November--journalism is in the hands of the people, not by those merely looking for a quick buck--and this development is in the best interests of our community and society as a whole. Innovation in journalism is now bottom up. Besides, IBM did not revolutionize the future of the Internet, so why would you expect 150-year-old newspapers to change the way you digest the news?
October 9, 2010
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