If you think reporters, editors, newspaper pundits, Sam Zell and the Sulzberger family are the only ones worried about the fate of the media business, you haven’t spent a Saturday morning with a room full of geeks.
At last weekend’s BarCampPortland III meetup, the assembled developers, programmers and Web 2.0 entrepreneurs were just as concerned about the fate of the news business as the smattering of old-school journalists who dragged themselves out of bed for the bad coffee and good conversation.
The techies wanted to know all kinds of things: Why are newspaper headlines misleading? Will micropayments – the vending machine model for paying for news stories – work? Should bloggers hold themselves to the same ethical constraints as reporters? Just what are those ethical constraints? Should bloggers be reporters? Should reporters be bloggers? Is hyperlocal news making money? And just how hyper is your local?
All excellent questions. The free-flowing discussion that followed touched on a lot of them without providing a lot of answers, at least not any definitive ones. But it was a start.
If the number of tech-slash-news geeks at BarCamp was any indication, Portland is a hive of activity on the hyperlocal news front. No less than three online community news ventures were represented: Neighborhood Notes; OurPDX.com and The Portland Sentinel, a monthly paper in North Portland with a daily news website. In case you hadn’t heard, PDX TV station KATU is looking to hire a Web producer to write, curate and publish local stories on KATU.com.
BarCamp took place the day after The Columbian in Vancouver, Wash., filed for bankruptcy protection, making talk of the future of the news all the more pressing. The Columbian sent a trio of newsroom staffers to BarCamp, including John Hill, the journalist turned journalism IT guy who wrote the ‘how hyper is your local’ blog post I linked to higher in this piece.
Guys like Hill, and Michelle Nicolosi, the executive producer at the newly only-only SeattlePI.com, and Kate Cohen and Donna Wares, co-bloggers at the SealBeachDaily community news site in California could be the salvation of the news business. They and a new breed of hybrid tech-news entrepreneur, like Steve Walling, a Portland writer and consultant who’s involved with projects like AboutUs.org and WikiProjectOregon.
Here in Portland, the conversation that started at BarCamp is continuing. As I write this, Abraham Hyatt, another Portland journalist who’s tracking the online news business, is planning a digital news meetup for sometime in August. Stay tuned for details. And tell a techie friend.