JP: Well, every paper’s organizational structure and finances are different. I find it hard to believe, though, that some of the bigger ones couldn’t find the staffing space or the cash to form and fund a research and development lab of some sort. The only reason that the ARPANET got started is because the Department of Defense was willing to fund research that did not have immediately obvious applications; to spend the time supporting projects that might—or might not—pay off somewhere down the line.
Now, the projects themselves might not have seemed immediately practical. But the idea behind funding them was intensely so. It is very, very hard to solve a jigsaw puzzle if you don’t take the time to step back and look at the picture on the box. Big problems don’t get solved—big ideas don’t get formed—without sufficient time to reflect and space to experiment.
MG: Those are great points—and I very much agree re: the experimentation stuff, etc. Though I am concerned about what happens to systematic reporting in all this. I’m just wondering how you see reporting, experimentation, and community playing out, existing in relation to each other, and to other news outlets—local, regional, national, etc. (Perhaps it’s an obvious question, but I just want to make sure I’m imagining the right scenario.)
JP: Well, perhaps it goes back to some of the points your essay makes about dominant perspectives. I don’t have your essay in front of me, so sorry if I’m butchering it. But I think you talked about how the traditional role of an omnibus newspaper was to sort out the various community voices and assert one dominant perspective as the most accurate representation of “the way it is.”
Whereas, these days, we’ve got a million voices on an equal plane. Each its own separate nation-state. And you, as a reader, can choose your citizenship. Well, maybe the Tribune is the United Nations, then. Maybe its reporters and editors bring all of these voices together and try to make sense of what they’re saying. So maybe the Tribune’s role is to facilitate interaction, to spark discussion, and to come up with a “resolution” at the end of the day that ties it all together.
I think there will be some of that, but I also think that traditional reporting will continue to exist and thrive. For readers who prefer their news that way. Maybe that’s layered on to the plethora of voices. If you register, or log in, or pay or something. You can also get the Tribune’s take on the news. Honestly, I think people are always going to want that.
MG: That’s really interesting. I like it. But—another obvious question, perhaps, but I have to ask—how is all that normatively different from what, say, the HuffPo does on the national level? A combo of original reporting, aggregated reporting, blogging, commentary, etc.?
JP: It doesn’t sound very different, does it? I don’t know. We just need to open our minds to the potential of the Internet. People like to communicate. OK, so let’s give them opportunities to do so. And let’s think about ways that we can still serve our informational/news goals by doing so. People like to look at pictures online. Well, what can we do with that?
How about something like this: You provide an interactive map of Chicago, and encourage people to upload interesting pictures about their neighborhoods, streets, lives, etc. People tag those pictures however they want. And then reporters use those photos as reporting tips. Maybe they go out and write a story about something depicted in a photo. Maybe they generate more local reporting. A picture of a boarded-up storefront… well, shit, let’s go out and look at it in person. Maybe there’s a story about local businesses. Maybe there’s something there on insurance fraud. Maybe there’s a guy who was in this space for fifty years and is being forced out.