Jarvis began by saying that “old media has to update itself… but the point of that is to carry over the value of journalism” to new media. Likewise, Darnton said he had learned a lot, especially during the presidential campaign, about new media. Both men agreed that each operation has its place. Darnton said that traditional media is like a “spine” and new media “fills” in the gaps. “We’re in a good position now,” he said. “What I worry about is the future and the possibility we’ll go online only.” Both agreed that the term “citizen journalist” isn’t a good one because journalism and information should be judged upon their own merits and not upon job titles.

Cornog asked if the professional news media are “under attack” and mistrusted. Jarvis replied that stories are becoming “more of a process” rather than a one-time, one-way explanation. Jarvis cited the example of Gawker Media founder Nick Denton, who pioneered the act of publishing “half-baked posts” in which reporters lay out what they know and what they don’t, and then ask readers to contribute their own intelligence. That approach can be very useful in consumer reporting, he said, citing the example of The Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC Radio, which mobilized its audience to report back on the price of food items around New York City. The input from listeners created a valuable database. Out of such mobilization “come new efficiencies and new business structures,” Jarvis said.

Darnton agreed with Cornog that, “Somewhere journalism got a bad name.” The first indication that amateur reporters were picking up the slack for professional news, in his opinion, was the Rodney King beating in 1991.
Newspapers need to find a business model for such Web reporting that will allow them to stay current, Darnton said. He cited VoiceofSanDiego.com and MinnPost.com as good examples of traditional journalism start-ups on the
Web, but cautioned that their business models “aren’t replicable everywhere,” and that those operations are still very limited. Jarvis chimed in to add ProPublica to the list of start-ups doing traditional journalism on the Web.

Jarvis said that at a recent event at CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism, students looked for a news business model for online reporting. One of the unique positions that they came up with was that of “community manager,” a
person whose fulltime job would be to integrate citizen reporting into the site. He said that traditional media outlets should be more willing to experiment and share the results of those experiments. “There is no time to lose,” he said. Jarvis added that he is confident that there is still market demand for professional, investigative reporting, but that the journalism industry is still transforming into an undetermined size, scale, and shape. There will probably be a smaller core of journalists at the center, and news outlets will be more collaborative. He also noted that startup outlets “won’t be able to access big amounts of capital anymore. Darnton agreed, saying that advertising revenue is “particularly tricky” right now, charity funding is unreliable, government funding almost out of the question, and
subscription revenue is unsustainable.

Darnton said there is a misperception of professional journalists as being “up on Mt. Olympus,” rendering thumbs-up, thumb-down verdicts,” when in fact they are there to “enhance the experience for the user.” He also said he favors large news operations because they have the money to pay for revenue-losing operations such as investigations. Amateur operations could not do that, he said. On the other hand, Jarvis pointed to citizen-generated
Web sites in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the Indian Ocean Tsunami that provided valuable, highly localized information about safety, rescue, and support operations. Relying on amateur reporting does not always work out
during emergencies, however, Jarvis noted. After the bombing of the London Underground, one of the first citizen reports said incorrectly that there had been a power blackout. But with so many camera phones on the ground,
Jarvis concluded, news outlets must find ways to motivate and educate audiences and pay a professional to manage that community.

Case Studies 3 & 4

Curtis Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, CJR's online critique of science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.