There were three speakers and a moderator. The presentation was pretty well attended at the very cool St. James Hotel located at 55 E Ontario downtown. The hotel has a nice bar and lobby area and is well situated - if you are coming into Chicago you might want to check it out.
The panel discussion was fairly interesting. One guy was from AP and he used to be the AP chief in Iraq when it fell in 2003. He said that Iraq was much more dangerous today than it was at that time and basically AP needed to use locals for reporting because it was too deadly for Westerners, and that three of their local reporters had been killed so far. He works on an AP initiative to bring the news to the younger 18-34 year demographic. Previously he had been posted to China and learned Chinese before going, but he didn't have time to learn the language before being sent to Iraq. The other two guys were a bit less interesting, one a professor in NYC and the other an editor for the Chicago Tribune who occasionally teaches a journalism class.
They had a few interesting points:
- They mentioned that the blogs do keep them honest at times; they mentioned the Dan Rather scandal uncovered by bloggers and noted that sometimes they had comments as soon as articles were posted online, once they even made corrections before it hit the press
- They said that sometimes they had to respond to stories that weren't even stories (like Obama in Indonesia) because else people said they were "covering up"
- All of them were trying to use new technology to make their stories more interesting and inclusive to appeal to a new generation
- They said that newspapers can distinguish themselves through fact checking and solid content and this distinguishes them from blogs, where you don't know who is talking and whether or not they are a reliable narrator
I asked them about something that I think about from time to time - how does the "traditional" journalist who researches a story and then goes through fact-checking and editing hope to compete with a blogger who knows far more than they know about a particular topic. I gave the example of myself with tax (or energy policy) - unless this was a specialized tax publication I was far likelier to know more about the topic than any "generalist" reporter. They kind of dodged the question and said that the reader wouldn't know if I was a neutral party or not, if I represented something "behind the scenes" and this colored my reporting.
That is about the answer I expected; for journalism to exist as currently practiced, it is about the "story" rather than deep knowledge of the relevant subject area. From the perspective of the lay reader, this is probably good enough - but blogs (like this one) enable readers to take a "deep dive" into particular topics that we know like the backs of our hand. In some ways these are the real competition for "mind share" if not # of overall hits.
The other item they mentioned that I found interesting is that they are starting to "blur the lines" between categories. For instance, on the Borat movie rather than review it as entertainment they sent a reporter to Kazakhstan to review how the locals perceived the story. I find that some of our best posts here blend the lines between economics, behavior, history, business, and a bunch of other stuff. Either that or ones where Dan shaves his head or I want to boycott North Face...