Journalism 2.0 at Convergence 2009

Being a reporter isn’t anything like it was 10 or even 5 years ago, but the Journalist 2.0 panel at Cossette West’s Convergence 2009 conference held at the Vancouver Convention Centre tried to wrestle with the changes happening both in traditional media and with citizen journalism.

The panel consisted of Sean Holman, the editor of Public Eye, a long-running online website devoted to digging deep into West Coast politics, Kirk Lapointe, the managing editor of the Vancouver Sun (and a Twitterer in his own right) and Susan Ormiston, who reports for CBC’s The National.

Lapointe said that legacy media is in better shape than some think; some of the companies are in trouble but the audience is growing and respects the quality level brought by old media organizations. He said the big challenge for old media is to create value in an era of abundance. And he added that the long tail and the growth of social media is a great way to generate that value. “Small is beautiful” translates to more word of mouth to more committed readers. 

Journalism is also “everything to everyone”, and has become elastic and agile like never before, as well as much more inclusive. Access to technology won’t reduce a demand for journalists, he said, but what isn’t clear is what form that journalist will take.

Hollman, who has won awards for his journalism, said he realized when he was working for the government previous to creating his site that he didn’t have to reach everyone, he just had to reach the right people.

He also said he wasn’t surprised that when he started the blog, mainstream journalists would use his site for their own stories, which made politicians take notice and speak to the points he raised in his articles when they addressed the Legislature.

The consequences of the mainstream media not answering to free online content has resulted in many layoffs, he said, and will hamper quality content creation, he said.
Perhaps, Holman said, mainstream media will begin contracting out content creation to specialized shops, though he conceded that arrangement is likely not possible in Canada in the short term.

Susan Ormiston said she was initially reluctant to create an online platform to work from when she covered the most recent federal election. But what she found was that while there were challenges, such as producing vlog reports and working out the conflicts of election rules and the unimpeded freedom of the internet, she also got to explain to the nation how bloggers, Twitter and other social media was changing the election process and the practice of journalism.

Ormiston said she learned that the mainstream media is not quite ready to cede control to the bloggers, and while the media was acting as a filter, there was still a level of mistrust in the mainstream media towards online. And in terms of politics, Canadian politicians are clearly way behind the social media savvy of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.