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« Saying Goodbye to an Amazing Gig | Main | A Medium Coming Into Its Own »

January 02, 2005



Shalom Mr. Gilmore,

On the experiment at the Greensboro News & Record:

I really can't see any sense in watching anything that a newspaper does. Ink-on-paper is a dinosaur sinking deeper and deeper into the tar. It may mean well, but no amount of listening to what its dwindling customer-base wants or thinks is going to improve its situation.

As a magazine journalist, I’ve sat in on my share of these kinds of focus-group boondoggles and observed two things.

First, the information that management wants to hear is picked up and used as evidence that what it is doing is right.

Second, the information that management does not want to hear is ignored or treated as “a good idea in an ideal world, but not workable given the realities of business.”

I’m sure you’ve watched the Wolf Blizter/Paula Zahn “Wolf, what do you got?” commercial for CNN. If CNN is poking fun at itself for lack of relevance, how can a daily newspaper hope to do anything?

Ink-on-paper just needs to get over it. To steal the phrase from Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo: “People are just not that into you.”

I’m very much looking forward to checking back to see where Grassroots Journalism goes.


Jeff Hess

[email protected]

Ewan Grantham

I think the newspaper still serves a valuable role, and that an effort to try and reach out to the parts of the community that can help make the paper better, even if some of those folks are the ones who don't need the paper themselves any longer, can be a good force for good.

Yes, anytime you go out to get opinions, you do have to be worried about the analysis phase. I'm a project manager for a fair-sized software project, and we have a group of Industrial Engineers in part to make sure we don't "hear what we want to hear". On the other hand, if you never ask you aren't going to learn anything new.

I think the real answer will come when the paper tries to make changes based on what they heard, and then some of the folks who they talked to blog about whether that's what they said or not. In the meantime, it's still a worthwhile effort.

My .02 worth...

Sven Cahling

I agree with Ewan. And we mustn´t forget that there are still a lot of people off line. If their paper allows more of a conversation to start on line, and that conversation at least partly moves into the paper, it´s a good thing.
Sven Cahling


I do not think that newspapers are dinosaurs, I think they are exactly what they always have been. It is our use of the tool that has changed. Or rather, our perception of the tool.

With so-called progressive papers in small communities around world (though admittedly I only know of those in the US) you can see that it really is a community based initiative. This has to do with the framework in which they operate. It has much to do with how such things scale. When you are covering local events there is instant accountability. In large cities and papers with national or international syndication, where is the mechanism for peer review? I certainly do not know how to fact-check the War on Terror or the happenings of tsunami ridden countries. This is a problem that is just now coming to the minds of alternative media planners. Off the top of my head, decentralization of sources and cross-checking may be part of a solution, but I honestly don't know what the media has in the way of this now, so I am not really qualified to present a solution at this time.

I am rambling. ^_^

That a newspaper is initiating an out-reach program for it's readers is really good, especially within the framework of the current citizen/media relationship. There are two seperate ways to view this, both happening at the same time. On one hand they may or may not be held more accountable in their community. On the other hand they may or may not expand their reader base. This is like multiplying with positive and negative intregers. If you have both of those be positive (more accountability and more readers) then you something positive will come out. Anything else will give you a negative effect.

In closing I would like to recognize something that Dan said about one-size-fits-all orginizations. I agree, there won't be any. Constant experimentation with the benefits of institutional memory will put grassroots media groups on par with the "big guys".

Here's hoping for the best! ^_^


Hanan Levin

A similar experiment was conducted by The Northwest Voice, a community publication in Bakersfield, CA, in which nearly all the content is contributed by people in the community.
See -


It's pretty easy to sit back in front of your computer and call newspapers obsolete; after all, I only read the paper versions on the train or during blackouts. But John Robinson at the News & Record -- and hundreds of editors like him -- are struggling to accomplish three very ambitious goals:

1. Keep their jobs. Whether they are fighting against the tide, or have a reasonable chance of reversing stagnating ad rates, declining circulations and sexy competition for young writers, editors of small- and mid-market newspapers want to feed their families.

2. Serve their readers. After a half-decade of running the NYTimes' leftovers (or Reuters, or AP) to fill their inside pages, these same editors are beginning to recognize that their readers can and do go elsewhere for their world news, their record reviews and their celebrity gossip. If these editors hope to regain their footing, they have to offer something different and vital to their readers -- that means going deeper than the local TV news can go, and finding a more localized way to explore national news, trends and ideas.

3. Rebuild their communities. If you live in a city smaller than 200,000 people, you're probably aware that there is a crazy, large swath of people living in the United States who are not significantly attached to a community larger than their church, job or elementary school. Newspapers offer a way to connect those isolated islands.

Anyway, long story short, I think what the Greensboro News & Record is trying to do is not novel, not fancy, not new. But it is an important and long-forgotten aspect of good journalism, which above all means being a part of the community you cover -- not being apart from it.

Jozef Imrich

Speaking of rebuilding communities, [b]y insulating themselves in the short run from the problems of society, the (Maya) elite merely bought themselves the privilege of being among the last to starve. New York Times editorial

While we pay many journalists peanuts, we can expect to read monkey stories...

I am not a journalist, however, over drinks with journalists at the Parliament House in Sydney, I used to overhear how little career opportunity existed for political hacks with mainstream newspapers.

The smartest ones ended up working for the Premier, the less fortunate ended up with Ministers, the unluckiest seemed to work for the opposition parties.

Getting a job with Coca Cola and British Tobacco was the Holy Grail ...

There are many journalists who are passionate about community, but many realise sooner or later that the newspaper management is not interested in the community as they spent most of their time with their mates who make dough as PR managers or are chief of staff with the Ministers...

The community should be prepared to pay the journalists at SES or Financial controller levels!

My two cents worth ...

Kirk House

I agree with John's second point. The term World Wide Web neglects the fact that the Internet can be used just as effectively to connect small communities. I work for a non-profit and wrote some web code that allows the submission of news in certain regions such as Coastal, Inland etc. or just to surrounding communities. Seems to work fairly well but I can't open source it yet unfortunately.

media girl

Personally I'm not all that impressed that a newspaper wants to open its doors to interview people. Isn't that called "staying in touch with your audience"? Now if the paper opened its site to its readership for blogging or discussion, that would be a big step for a newspaper. So far, papers seem to be clinging to notions of one-way communication. Very few will open up topics for discussion. I will toast the day when a paper actually launches a wiki.

More impressive to me were the glimpes of independent journalists going after the story in the Asia quake aftermath. Rather than the packaged nonsense being offered up on television, we saw people, real people, giving us information about what was happening. It took me a couple of days to get past the utter horror of the tragedy and really appreciate the job these reporters were doing. I hope young people out there see this and are inspired to get into reporting (oh, and journalism, too).

Of course, now we have the photo-op broadcasts by anchors standing in rubble. It has become a show. The media business has caught up with the story.

With all the newspaper consolidations, it's starting to feel similar. You hear of a news item, and as often as not you find the same wire story on dozens of websites, and in the various papers around the country. We're seeing the limits of the limited resources and, more importantly, the limited thinking of these megacorp media companies.

I always found that slogan, "All the news that's fit to print," kind of offensive. What we've seen with the emergence of the internet as a tool is that there's a heck of a lot of very newsworthy news that these publishers don't seem to consider fit to print. The internet medium has become the message, and that message is that you are your own news editor.

Overwhelming? Yes. But we're all n00bs at this. We're still figuring all tihs out. 20 years from now, people will consider our times the stone age.

As it is, I feel empowered by the internet. I still read the papers and watch TV, but I'm reassured that I'm not limited to those censored (yes, censored) presentations of reality as deemed fit by the corporate media. This newspaper claiming to be opening its doors -- they aren't empowering anybody. They don't get it.

I don't know what your new project is, but it sounds very exciting, and your goals are laudable. I don't care about the News & Record's attempts to save its readership. But I'll be watching with great interest to see what you're up to. It sounds much more promising.

Best of luck and good fortune!

media girl

Jason Shultz

In Phoenix, one of the local papers (I can't remember if it was on the Tribunes or the AZ Gazette) would once a year run an issue with nothing but positive articles. It would be one of their biggest runs each year. They would comment about it. But, they would quickly add that it was only a once a year thing and they'd go back to normal the next day. They said it was so hard to find good things to report. How much crap is that? There's good things to report all around us. Furthermore, if bad news sells, then why is an issue where it's nothing but good news repeatedly ranks among the top selling runs of the year? How hard can it be to report about the possitive? I'm not saying that every day's issue needs to be butterflies and gum drops. But balance it. One of the biggest complaints I hear about newspapers is its nothing but bad news. If news papers were a reflection of what's going on in our daily lives we'd all be mugged, beaten and hit by trucks on our way to the office. Ok, that's overly dramatizing it. But, it's something to think about.

The One True b!X

I find "very news department employee will individually interview several people like you" interesting. Mainly because (and I haven't even yet mentioned this on my site yet) a newspaper reporter new to town who has been assigned to the City Hall beat has asked to meet me for coffee to "ask some dumb questions" -- presumably about the beat in question, since I've been doing commentary and original reporting on City Hall for two years now on Portland Communique.

It's a peculiar moment, when a mainstream reporter taps a blogger to help get their bearings on a new beat.


I still read the papers (Tribune & Sun-Times), but more out of habit than any genuine need. Most of the information i get comes from online sources.

Still this project should be expanded. Newspapers need to explore how they can survive the 'push' and 'pull' dynamics of the new information age.

People are 'editing' their own info feeds and no longer need to rely on editors at newspapers or the television media.


I'm an Italian student of Communication Studies.
I'm writing a thesis about blog and mainstream media.

Thank you for your work!!!


Aaron S. Veenstra

"The internet medium has become the message, and that message is that you are your own news editor."

You know, there's a good reason that you (the ubiquitous "you," that is) are not your own editor in the pre-blog media. Reporting is a process of collaborative examination, and that's something that blogs generally stink at.

Candy Goulette

Having worked for The Sacramento Bee as writer and ME of a healthcare niche publication (housed in the advertising department), I found the attitude of the "real" editorial people horrible. They looked at me as though I was sleazy because I dealt with advertisers in the course of my work. These same people are the ones who are called upon to cover small town politics and big city happenings and all too often their news hole is filled with stuff that doesn't matter to most readers.

I grew up reading a daily newspaper, worked my way up to news editor from beat reporter and always tried to remember the people are the story. It would be nice if the Greensboro editor could motivate his reporters (and editors) to really embrace their new place in the mediascape there. My past experience tells me just the desire is not enough. They'll have to remember what it feels like to be someone who is not a news insider, then bring them the stories that are important TO THEM.

On another note, I applaud your new venture and will watch with envy (and some trepidation) from over here in Placer County.

Ed Brenegar

I could help chuckling at Jess Hess' prediction about the demise of ink-on-paper publishing. These kind of predictions are all based on things remaining as they are. The people who run organization maybe slow, but most are not stupid. There are early adopters in every social group, and journalism entities are no different. It wasn't be a few years ago that the doomsayers were saying that the internet would wipe out newspapers. Well, if you take a look, newspapers have figured out that their online service is another profit center. What Dan Gilmor is pointing to is the next innovation in journalism, and newspapers will absorb it better than magazines will. I read my newspaper. I spend about 5 minutes reading my weekly news magazine. I carry around about six months worth of some business magazines and pick at them when I have a minute or two. The world is changing and newspapers will lead the way within the journalism community.

Bob Wyman

The News & Record should be commended for what they are doing. However, I'd like to suggest that they go a step farther and copy what Le Monde has done in France. They have created a partnership with Typepad that allows them to offer blogs as a service to their readers. The result is that readers of Le Monde now write within the context of Le Monde -- yet, in a section which is clearly identified as not under the journalistic or editorial control of Le Monde. Presumably, the editors and writers at Le Monde will be harvesting the best of the consumer created content for inclusion within the formal publication. See:,2-3506,48-0,0.html
In this way, readers are able to become writers and the best writing can be promoted when it is discovered.

bob wyman

John Robinson

As the editor of the News & Record, I'd like to suggest a couple things. First, online plays a key part of our attempts to get closer to our community. Blogging, interactivity and open-source journalism will be played out there in full. The newspaper and the Web sites will complement each other.

Second, we've used the web and the blogosphere to solicit ideas to stretch and refine our thinking about how we can serve our readers, journalism and the civic good. We've been overwhelmed with the wonderful ideas offered our way, including guidance from Dan through his writing and "We the Media."

Third, I've never talked about what we're doing as being unique or innovative or radical. It is simple back-to-basics journalism.

Last, it'll work because we know that our job is to produce news and information that helps people self govern. Doesn't matter if it's on paper or online. Doesn't matter if an employee of the newspaper produces it or a nerd in his pjs does. What matters is if it informs the public and moves the discussion forward.

The One True b!X

Reporting is a process of collaborative examination, and that's something that blogs generally stink at.

If you look at any single blog individually, perhaps (although even there it's not as simple as you make it sound, what with instant reader feedback/participation). But especially when you look at the interplay between and amongst blogs, then "collaborative examination" is precisely what segments of the blogosphere are good at.

Paul Jones

Phil Meyer's new book The Vanishing Newspaper: Saving Journalism in the Information Age has a lot to say to bloggers and to journalists and to newspaper owners as well. The social capital of local, regional and even national news producers be they bloggers or TV reporters is a large part of what makes news work. But Phil has more to say than that. [full disclosure: Phil is my collegue at the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication just down the road from Greensboro].
I'm thinking of using both Dan's and Phil's books in an upcoming course on blogging and online community.
I'm very interested in seeing how the News and Record fares and plan to keep a close eye on the work there. I already read several reporters' blogs -- Ed Cone for one.
I've seen Landmark papers take the lead in innovative technology use before including the live reporting/blogging of the Malvo Trial in the Virginian-Pilot (or rather on their site).

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