The fifth annual International Journalism Festival continued on Friday in Perugia, Italy, and CJR’s managing web editor Justin Peters is, as the festival’s website puts it, playing “ringmaster” to four panels throughout the week: “Engaging the community,” “Having an impact,” “Beyond the article,” and “Getting started, staying solvent.”
The event on “impact” promised to address the questions, “Can small online news outlets do big stories?” and, more fatalistically, “Is most online journalism actually worth a damn?” Charles Lewis, who runs the Investigative Reporting Workshop and has founded a host of nonprofit news sites, said that big staffs and budgets don’t make great news—the best information does. With new and creative uses of publicly available data, a small staff of reporters and programmers can break big stories much more easily than they could in years past.
Paul Staines, founder of order-order.com, said that the key for smaller news outlets is to be realistic in their goals. His two-man political blog may not be able to compete with the Telegraph on their ground-breaking story on Britain’s Parliament members’ expenses, but he and his partner can concentrate on smaller-focus stories that, when put together, can have a cumulative impact. Of course, he added, it also helps that his online tabloid doesn’t have the same verification and double-sourcing standards as larger, more established outlets. “I’m more likely to take a flyer and a risk with the lawyers,” he said.