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An interview with Mike Fancher, author of “Re-Imagining Journalism: Local News for a Networked World”

September 13, 2011 in Blog, Craft, Policy, Revenue

Across the field of journalism we’ve had an “information infusion” from a broad range of sources over the summer. Analysis, review and reporting from the likes of PEW, Knight, the Economist, Clay Shirky, the FCC’s recent 450+ page report furthering the analysis Knight Foundation started two years ago, and CJR’s recent write up “What We Know so Far.” The Chicago Community Trust has released a mother lode of data revealing new insights on the power of linking. The list outlined above is far from exhaustive but a good representation of the depth, breadth and focus on the unfolding of a “news industry interrupted” by some of the brightest minds today.

There is a general consensus that we’re bearing witness to a long-standing community of practice “reimagining” itself, a phrase Mike Fancher refers to in his new report, Local News for a Networked World. Posted  in July, this paper was co-commissioned by the Aspen Institute and the Knight Foundation. As a veteran newsman and community advocate, Fancher brings a unique perspective to this work with a long run as executive editor of one of the finest city paper newsrooms in the nation, The Seattle Times. Noting his career as an editor unfolded in a far less turbulent time in the business lifecycle of news and reporting Fancher retired from the Times in 2008.

The combination of professional experiences Fancher has accrued over the course of his career has expanded further since his retirement. In 2008-2009 he served as a fellow at the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri focusing his study there on journalism ethics evolution in the digital age. Prior to returning to the academy as a fellow, while serving as a city paper editor, Fancher completed his master’s degree in business to better understand news, journalism and the marketplace it lives within, in context. Read the rest of this entry →

St. Louis Beacon

September 9, 2011 in Community, Distribution, Resources, Revenue

When her 34 years with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ended in a buyout in 2005, then-Sunday Editor Margaret Freivogel looked at the state of America’s shrinking newsrooms and decided something important was being lost.

“There were about 40 people who left the Post-Dispatch newsroom at the time I did, and we looked around and tried to put what had happened in perspective. What we saw was that what happened at the Post-Dispatch was happening all over the country, and it amounted to less reporting,”” Freivogel says.

She and several colleagues decided they were in a position to do something about it. In April, they launched an online news site, now called the St. Louis Beacon ( to cover the Gateway region. “We saw this as a service to the community, to provide the kinds of in-depth reporting and context..that is being cut back all over the country,” Freivogel says.

When creating the Beacon, the staff drew inspiration from Web-only local sites like Voice of San Diego (, Gotham Gazette ( and (see Drop Cap, February/March). Freivogel hopes to make community interaction central to the operation as those sites do. The Beacon allows comments on its work, and frequently receives story ideas and other suggestions from its audience. The site has a presence on social media sites Twitter and Facebook and has sponsored events such as a book signing by Beacon contributor Harper Barnes, author of “”Never Been a Time: The 1917 Race Riot That Sparked the Civil Rights Movement.”” Whether in person or in the digital space, Freivogel says, audience interaction is the key to “”trying new things, pushing the envelope on things you can do.”” The nonprofit has been largely funded by donations, including a $500,000 challenge grant from Emily Pulitzer that requires the Beacon to raise an additional $1.5 million from other sources. The Pulitzer family owned the Post-Dispatch until the summer of 2005, when it sold the daily to Lee Enterprises.

The choice of nonprofit status is part ideology, part necessity, says Richard Weil, chairman of the board that runs the Beacon. “”We all have a not-for-profit mentality, because quite a lot of us have long thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could have a nonprofit newspaper?’ But we couldn’t be for-profit if we wanted to,”” he says, laughing. “”If we at the Beacon say to investors that we’re going to be a for-profit organization, can you imagine all the investors breaking down our doors to give us money?” SourceAmerican Journalism Review

Re-Imagining Journalism: Local News for a Networked World

August 31, 2011 in Craft, Education, Experiments, Policy, Resources

Re-Imagining Journalism: Local News for a Networked World, a new policy paper by Michael R. Fancher, identifies five strategic areas and specific ideas for promoting experimentation, collaboration and public engagement that are critical for reforming local journalism. The paper calls upon a variety of stakeholders in business, the nonprofit sector, government and community institutions, and citizens themselves to each play a role in nurturing a revitalized and re-imagined local media ecosystem.

The five key strategies for re-inventing local journalism include:

  1. For-profit media organizations must re-invent themselves to extend the role and values of journalism in interactive ways.
  2. Not-for-profit and non-traditional media must be important sources of local journalism.
  3. Higher education, community and non-profit institutions can be hubs of journalistic activity and other information-sharing for local communities.
  4. Greater urgency must be placed on relevance, research and revenues to support local journalism.
  5. Government at all levels should support policies that create an environment for sustainable, quality local journalism.

In particular, Fancher calls on leaders of local print and broadcast media to spearhead the creation of regional and local collaborative news networks that meet the information needs of their communities. These interactive news networks are part of a broader set of strategies for re-inventing local journalism that are aimed at addressing the need for media policies that foster innovation, competition and support for business models that provide marketplace incentives for quality journalism and envision new roles for universities and community institutions as hubs of journalistic activity.” SourceKnight Foundation

Partners of Necessity: The Case for Collaboration in Local Investigative Reporting

August 29, 2011 in Craft, Experiments, Resources, Revenue

Media organizations may be able to perform their watchdog roles more effectively working together than apart. That is one conclusion in a new paper, “Partners of Necessity: The Case for Collaboration in Local Investigative Reporting,” authored by Sandy Rowe, former editor of Portland’s The Oregonian. The paper is based on interviews and research that Rowe conducted while serving as a Knight Fellow at the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School.

Rowe’s research examines the theory underpinning collaborative work and shows emerging models of collaboration that can lead to more robust investigative and accountability reporting in local and regional markets.” SourceThe Harvard Kennedy School

The Story So Far: What We Know About the Business of Digital Journalism

August 18, 2011 in Craft, Distribution, Resources, Revenue

Can digital journalism be profitable? What’s making money, what isn’t, and why? A new report from Columbia University faculty members Bill Grueskin, academic dean of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, and Ava Seave, principal at Quantum Media and adjunct professor at the Columbia Business School, addresses these questions about the financial state of digital journalism. The report provides the most comprehensive analysis to date of the business challenges that for-profit news organizations face with their digital ventures. The report is being issued by the school’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism, which is committed to the research and advancement of journalism on digital platforms. Grueskin, Seave, and Ph.D. candidate Lucas Graves spent several months reporting on-site at news organizations—some founded over a century ago and others created in the past year or two. Based on the resulting body of data, they examine how news organizations allocate resources, explore what patterns are emerging in revenue streams, and draw conclusions about how companies might generate revenue more effectively. The report is divided into nine chapters covering advertising models at a diverse array of news organizations, alternative platforms, new revenue streams, audience engagement and more.” SourceColumbia Journalism School