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  • A Sort of Homecoming

    Posted on October 5th, 2006 pachecod 1 comment

    The last few weeks have been surreal in ways I can only begin to understand. To quote U2, it was “a sort of homecoming” that brought so many disparate parts of my professional and personal life into focus, and I felt — not for the first time — like I was an actor in someone else’s play.

    As previously mentioned, the “Bakomatic Social Media Platform” was the recipient of a Knight Batten Award for Innovation in Journalism. That by itself was an honor, especially given that even to this day people that I know and respect question whether things like citizen’s media, blogging and social networking can be considered journalism — as if that makes any difference to the millions upon millions of people spend hours a day in social media activities and never touch a “journalistic” product like a newspaper.

    So on September 18, I traveled back to Washington, D.C. to accept the award on behalf of the Californian. The awards banquet was held at the National Press Club. Just 8 years earlier I had worked for Knight Ridder Tribune Interactive one floor below the room where this luncheon was being held, and that office and company had long since shut down. Former Knight Ridder executive Bryan Monroe presented the awards, and I graciously accepted the beautiful crystal trophy from him and went back to my seat. And then he dropped the first bombshell.

    I’m paraphrasing the following quote, and shame on this former reporter for not writing it down, but this is my memory of what Mr. Monore said. Hopefully I got it pretty close:

    “The Knight brothers and the people of the Knight Ridder chain were pioneers in using journalism to help people be better informed citizens, but that wasn’t enough. We were also one of the earliest adopters of digital technology, but that also wasn’t enough. In the end, our shareholders didn’t believe in our ability to be relevant in the future. They put more value in our assets when sold than they did in our future potential.”

    Well needless to say, that was pretty sobering — and oddly inspiring at the same time, as he then pointed to the winners as role models to follow.

    I’m proud of what The Bakersfield Californian has done in a short time, but I feel that it’s the bare minimum given the media revolution that’s happening largely outside of newspapers’ walls. Thanks to the foresight of Ginger Moorhouse and the fact that we’re an independently owned company, the Californian is fortunate to at least have a seat at that card table. Sadly, most newspapers (and other traditional media like TV and radio) are in another Casino. And I don’t mean the Bellagio either. Circus Circus is more like it.

    Then the second bomb shell. The Knight Foundation announced its News Challenge, which is essentially a $25 million venture capital program spread over 5 years that will fund online “news and information” projects that benefit real-world communities. Applicants can be newspapers, or any for-profit, non-profit or educational institution. The purpose is to secure the Knight brothers’ legacy in the new digital world. It will be really interesting to see what they put their money behind.

    And then a few days later, the American Press Institute released a $2 Million study called Newspaper Next that seeks to educate newspapers about how to reverse declining revenues and encourage longterm innovation. Many of their recommendations involve things we’re already doing. Bloggers such as former online newspaper pioneer Susan Mernit (now at Yahoo) have criticized API for not spending that money in the way the Knight Foundation is — that is to say, by funding innovation instead of studying it — but it is at least a bold effort to encourage newspapers to do what they need to do to survive.

    If you were to put one headline on the events of Sept. 18 with respect to newspapers, it would go something like this: “Newspapers Agree the Future is Now“. It’s up to each individual newspaper to decide if they’re part of that future, or a footnote in the past. I hope most choose to step up to the plate, because there’s a century of good values in what they do, and I’m not convinced that other online-only ventures will carry those forward.

    After that, I wandered around Washington, a toursit in the city I once called home (well sort of – I did at least work there for a few years). I visited some friends at The Washington Post at 15th and L where I worked more than 11 years ago (fun fact — you now get a personalized UPC symbol sticker to get in the building, as if you’re littel more than a cereal box). Then I got on the metro, went to National Airport and headed back to Colorado.

    Once again I wanted to kiss the ground when I got home and couldn’t wait to see the mountains above my dashboard.

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