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Spokane, Madison Papers Want Readers’ Advice

Yesterday the Spokane Spokesman-Review began live webcasts of its 10:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. news meetings, with this request to readers:

Get involved, Ask a question, suggest a story idea, or tell us how we’re doing.

Editor Steven A Smith in a Poynter Institute interview says:

We have built a pretty substantial infrastructure around our “transparent newsroom” initiative, an effort to engage our readers in conversations about news, the editorial decision-making processes and so on. Our experience is that readers value the interaction, love to participate and often provide information and feedback that informs our journalism and gives it focus. But, as journalists, we always retain the right and ability to set our own agenda, to say “no” to ideas that won’t work for us. We remain independent, that independence in no way compromised by reader engagement….it’s an experiment and the outcome is uncertain.

In Madison at the Wisconsin Journal editor Ellen Foley takes the old-fashioned approach. In a column she writes:

We are in the midst of a cultural transition that is shattering the media landscape as it divides two of the most privileged generations: the Baby Boomers and their children.

The older generation prefers the slow and thoughtful media of the newspaper that generates a community conversation. The younger generation demands the fast, free media of the Web that resolves stress and chaos in their lives.

Playing out here is an age-old conflict between the values of community versus the individual. Journalists will almost always choose to write about a conflict unless given a better angle. To balance this story we need to invite some new voices from people who can imagine a solution. We turn once again to you, the smart people of Madison.

I open up my inbox to you at Tell me how the world of getting information is going to work five years from now. Will you be reading a newspaper? Will you receive a tailored news report via the Internet? How will we pay people who do watchdog journalism and dig up news-you- can-use if no one pays for Internet information? What might a new technology that bridges the two generations’ wants and needs look like and who will develop it?

I’ll share your solutions in the coming weeks. Perhaps some of my colleagues might eavesdrop before they write their next obituary for the news biz.

A nice civic journalism approach, but I’m not sure I like the “I’ll share your solutions,” why not have a format where the readers can share their own solutions among themselves and with you. Relinquish some of the control as they have done in Spokane and see what happens. Indeed, maybe that is solution number one.

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