Bill Mitchell is a trainer for journalists and an expert in new media at the Poynter Institute.
Glad to see you raising this issue here, Wayne. I’d suggest a slightly expanded framework: What values are at stake in the disruptive transformation of news that will likely continue for some time?
I put it that way because, just as the decline of newspapers as we’ve known them signal a diminishment of what Madison described, the emergence of participatory media reflects new possibilities for his vision.
How can we help newspapers hang onto their most important values as they make the transition to whatever’s next? No more vivid illustration of such a transition than the end of March in Detroit, when the Free Press and News will begin eliminate home delivery on Saturdays, Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Here are some of the principles I believe newspapers need to figure out a way to preserve amid the inevitable chaos: independence, accuracy, verification, fairness, transparency.
Just as we hold fast to important values and principles, we need to be flexible about some of our standards. Quick example: breaking news blogs have proven to be very useful when done well by newspapers ranging from small weeklies to the the biggest metro dailies. Depending on the circumstances, sometimes reporters post directly to these blogs without review by an editor. Sometimes they make mistakes, caught either by readers or by editors reading behind after the posting. Risky, yes, but I believe in most cases an appropriate risk.
We won’t survive this transformation by insisting we have to hang onto everything as it was. There’s a chance we’ll come out of this transformation with Madison’s vision more possible than ever before.