Great minds think

Elisabeth Soep

Senior Producer and Research Director, Youth Radio

Q: Are newspapers necessary, do they matter?

Yes, they're necessary. Yes, they matter. And yes, the public should care if they disappear. Not only is it where news aggregators go to, but it's also where reporters and producers go to get a sense of what stories are out there and how to move the story forward. It's very much one of the touchstones that anchor the reporting and commentary that comes out of the Youth Radio newsroom.

Q: Do your young people on staff read newspapers?

We have print newspapers in our newsroom. We have people who pick them up and look at them, newspapers like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. But more than likely the way that newspaper reporting filters into the lives of both young people and adults and organizations more and more is through social media. It's a link that's spread on Twitter or something people share through Facebook. In some ways the source of that information is as important - the source, like the original reporting source - is as important as the referral. If somebody that I respect and admire and follow is telling me that I should read this thing, that's the point of entry to that information.

Q: What were some of the mistakes, miscalculations made by traditional newspapers and magazines as the digital age took hold?

I don't want to jump on the bandwagon of suggesting that the state of affairs we're in right now is a direct reflection of some kind of failure by newspapers and magazines. Sometimes, often, the journalism that shows up in newspapers and magazines is excellent, vigorous, in-depth reporting -- and I'm not celebrating the fact it's harder to find outlets for that. Or, that it's harder if you're a producer of that kind of content to get paid to do it. So, I think there are sort of the obvious things: that print publications can't keep up with the news in the same way that a digital outlet can be. With digital, you can be constantly refreshing and engaging in a two-way or multifaceted way, as opposed to the one way authoritative article that's meant to be sent out to into an audience and be consumed. Print structures and the way information flows now versus how it traditionally happened in print makes it really hard to stay competitive for newspapers and magazines, unless they're able to launch online. Also, just the social dimensions of how information is generated and spread -- an online site can be much more nimble in doing that and to seamlessly leverage all those thought forms.

Q: Do you think blogs can replace all or some of what newspapers, journalistic entities do?

A blog is a platform. They're just a container for lots of different kinds of journalism and other forms of story-telling.

Q: Same question for citizen media.

Citizen media is an important piece. Probably the best example of the relationship between citizen media and journalism here at Youth Radio that comes to mind immediately would be our coverage of the Oscar Grant shooting and the aftermath. That was the story of a young black man who was riding BART and was shot by a white transit officer. All of it was captured on video because the passengers had the presence of mind and also the tools to document it. One of the passengers was a young woman and she showed up on the news because the footage she shot ended up being part of what was considered evidence as they decided whether to charge the transit officer with murder, which eventually they did. So, that's citizen media, right? That was an everyday person who had something in her back pocket that allowed her to document something or to witness something. But where Youth Radio took it to the next level was, one of our reporters tracked down through MySpace that same young woman who was riding the train and interviewed her. Together, they went back to the BART station where the shooting had taken place and took the story to another level. So that is a great example of where citizen media and journalism can come together and turn it into a story that actually moves the conversation forward.

Q: Howard Gardner says it's possible that the Internet can actually help journalism “fulfill its potential as an open and democratic medium sustaining a free society.” What do you think?

Well, how can we have this conversation without referencing the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, right? That's a case study in what's possible. It's also made it easier to do things like sex trafficking. So, my feeling is, can it makes things better? Yes. Can it make things worse? Yes. Is it going to promote democracy? Or, is it going to make it easier for people to do bad things? It can do both. There's ways in which it has contributed to forces to compromise democracy. So, the question is, what are the conditions under which we're seeing those positive outcomes and how can we build more of those?

Q: Youth Radio is a non-profit. Is that a sustainable model for journalism?

Even with non-profits these days it is hard to be sustainable without having some kind of revenue strategy beyond depending on a foundation and the public. So, it's almost a bigger question. How can we be sustainable in ways that free us from dependency on foundation dollars? It's only going be sustainable for journalism and the non-profits that have jumped into the journalism game if they can generate revenue out of the work they're doing.

Spring 2011

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