By Melissa Davidson Watch what you spout on Facebook – and anywhere on social media – because it could come back to bite you. Or get you kicked out of college. Today’s college students grew up with social media, so it’s easy to make a connection as to why in recent years an increasing number of… [Read more…]
Last year All Digitocracy published a piece about the lack of diversity at the invitation-only UNconference, Newsgeist. The annual event, hosted by Google and the Knight Foundation, brings together the top innovators in digital news media. This year the exclusive conference distinguished itself by being more inclusive than any other previous year. Organizers even invited Black Lives Matter activists — who came — a coup all by itself and a sign that Newsgeist organizers worked hard to be more diverse this year.
I too was invited, but can’t share direct quotes from Newsgeist participants because we were asked by organizers to abide by the Chatham House Rule, which allows attendees to freely use information from the meeting, but not to reveal the identities or affiliations of the speakers or participants. However, there is a list of some of the more prominent invitees floating around on Twitter. We were also told that Google’s new fast-loading page tool, AMP’d, came out of a previous Newsgeist. But this year I’m unsure whether any new tools or answers surfaced.
Anyway, as the saying goes, “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” But since Newsgeist took place in Phoenix, Ariz., here are a few things that I saw and heard at the private affair.
This year black and brown journalists were in the house (see above), and we talked extensively about diversity in news media, biased reporting and the ethics of Newsgeist itself. As expected, the presence of these journalists brought in whole new perspectives: When it comes to journalism being an institution of authority, we asked whose authority; when it came to questioning the goal of objectivity among journalists, journalists from foreign news outlets giggled at how we American news media types twist ourselves into knots trying to achieve the impossible. They know what many journalists of color know, when it comes to reporting, journalists almost always bring their own set of biases to bear on their work and that there is really no such thing as objectivity in journalism. Objective standards that we should apply to the process of doing our jobs, yes, but pure objectivity for objectivity’s sake doesn’t exist. Black, brown and international journalists questioned the manner in which U.S. media crafts narratives around communities and people they obviously do not know and have not spent time getting to know. And finally, we talked about recruiting journalists of color. Not just young journalists who white managers can mold in their own image, but middle managers and editors who may add depth and nuance to news coverage. For some these were eye-opening conversations. For others, not so much.
I led a session on crowdfunding, and the ethics we are now encountering when it comes to funding journalism in this way. For example, The Huffington Post doesn’t need the money, but it has now crowdfunded a second year of covering police and Ferguson, Missouri. Why isn’t it budgeting for such a beat? Texas Tribune too, another one that isn’t really hurting for cash, is crowdfunding coverage it would normally do anyway, including a series on immigration (also see here and here). So why do it? Simple, crowdfunding is fast becoming not THE revenue-stream, but yet another revenue stream for big media companies. At the same time, the Federal Trade Commission and other government agencies are now paying closer attention to crowdfunding campaigns, and rightly so. If companies get money from crowdsourcing, donors should be assured that the money is being used precisely as promised, and donors need to know that if they give money to for-profit media concerns, that these contributions likely will not qualify as tax deductions.
Which brings me to another important topic that came up during the conference: Are journalists who attend Newsgeist selling out to Google?
While I don’t believe Newsgeist has been bought off by Google (I don’t think that Google, or any of its competitors, necessarily want journalists or journalism for that matter as we are simply a means to an end), I do believe Google and other platforms that control the distribution of journalism content, including Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Snapchat, need to split a greater share of their revenues with journalists. I attended a session on “How Journalists Can Better Communicate With Silicon Valley” just for this reason.
The session, I thought, would be focused on how journalists can improve relationships with Facebook, Google, Twitter and other platforms. Instead, participants mostly discussed how Google might train journalists in coding and computer programming. For the record, Google and Twitter representatives aren’t interested in training journalists in how to write code. They instructed us to send them our software engineers instead (snickers). After listening to this conversation go on and on, I finally broached the subject that should have been on everyone’s minds: Revenue sharing. A Google representative touted the ways his company already shares revenue (Google Ads), but admitted that the tech giant (Google still insists that it is not a media company) can do better. One Twitter representative also wanted journalists in the room to know that they are working on new products, and new ways, to ensure certain content providers receive a fairer revenue share for their works. Certain content providers, not all (sorry small and independent news publishers). And hence, another huge part of the problem. Another challenge, among many, that we couldn’t, or didn’t, solve.
There’s always next year. I’ll let you know what happens, that’s if I am invited back.
This year’s invitation-only journalism innovation event included more women journalists but still lacked diversity in terms of race and ethnicity
By RAISA HABERSHAM
There’s a super secret gathering of journalists called Newsgeist, formerly Newsfoo. Ever heard of it? No. That’s because organizers of the gathering only want certain journalists to know about it, and even fewer get invited to the annual confabs.
Invited guests – elite journalists, media entrepreneurs, and technologists – met earlier this month at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. Sponsored by Google and the Knight Foundation Nov. 14-16, we can’t tell you who was there because we weren’t invited. We also can’t tell you what, specifically, was talked about or by whom. Newgeist has rules against that.
All Digitocracy did catch up with Marie Gilot, program officer with the Knight Foundation, who talked about increasing the number of women at this year’s event, and making future Newsgeists more racially and ethnically diverse.
All Digitocracy: Where did the idea of Newsgeist come from and what exactly is it?
Marie Gilot: Newsgeist is an “unconference,” meaning that there are no set agendas, no panels and no moderators. Its open format is intended to feed more innovation in news, media and journalism. Conference attendees decide which topics they want to talk about [when they arrive], break up into smaller groups and have freestyle discussions, like a bunch of really smart friends!
Google and Knight Foundation co-sponsor the event, which is in its fifth year and takes place at Arizona State University. My personal experience is that this format is mind-opening and makes it very difficult to go back to regular conferences where you sit in a hotel ballroom being talked to from the stage.
AD: What was the topic at this year’s event?
MG: The general topic is news, media and journalism and the people invited tend to be innovators in those areas. We are careful not to dictate narrow subtopics. People should be free to talk about what is on their mind at the moment. Some people this year discussed ways to make online security a default setting for journalists, others pondered ways to attach value to civility in comments to combat trolls, and there was a great discussion on the importance of play and playfulness in newsrooms.
AD: How do journalists become a part of it and are student journalists welcome? How are invitations distributed?
MG: Newsgeist is by invitation only. Google and Knight invite about 160 people each year including journalists, media company executives and entrepreneurs, academics and a few students. We pick people we have met at industry events, people we work with and people who have been recommended to us for their innovative approaches. We try not to have more than a third of returnees from previous years to mix it up and hear from new people. This careful curation of attendees is the key to a successful unconference.
AD: We’ve heard from a few attendees that the crowd wasn’t very diverse. Why was that and how do you intend to make the event more inclusive?
MG: The crowd could definitely have been more ethnically diverse – that goes for previous years too – and in the past, gender-balance was an issue too. This year, we were very intentional in having 50 percent women and I believe we achieved that. We now have to be just as intentional with diversity. It is absolutely achievable and extremely important for the organizers and the attendees. In fact, discussions are much deeper and more enjoyable when we have a mix of people with different experiences and backgrounds.
AD: Does the selective, invitation-only nature of the gathering impact the level of diversity?
MG: We are definitely aware that innovation and representative news coverage requires diversity. The invitation-only feature is essential to the balance of an unconference – to make sure that different parts of our field are represented – and should help, not hinder the level of diversity.
AD: Why are journalists, who usually support transparency, so secretive about this event?
MG: Participants are free to discuss what transpired at the meeting, as long as they use Chatham House rules and don’t attach statements and positions to a particular person. This is a typical request of unconference participants and essential for people to speak freely and candidly about the state of their company and industry.
(Chatham House rules state: When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.)
AD: Specifically, just how did you go about attracting more women to the gathering?
MG: We invited more women and checked the RSVPs regularly to make sure that the balance was maintained.
AD: Will you use these same strategies to achieve more racial and ethnic diversity?
MG: Yes, we will check as far as possible to ensure diversity. However, our invitations do represent a diverse mix we were proud of. Since we don’t ask for ethnicity with the RSVP it is never absolutely clear what the makeup will be when the weekend arrives. As an added measure, we asked this year’s attendees to suggest people to invite and impressed upon them that we would welcome suggestions that reflect our diversity goals.
AD: Would you like for Newsgeist to be 50 percent ethnic/racial diversity, what’s the magic number, and why?
MG: There isn’t a magic number, but we recognize that diversity is extremely important to ensuring that news coverage represents the make-up of the U.S. population. Knight’s diversity initiatives have included previous work with historically black colleges and universities, including our recent partnership with journalism programs at Morgan State and Hampton University; the International Center for Journalists “Back to the Newsroom” initiative; sponsorships of annual conferences (Asian American Journalists Association, National Association of Black Journalists, National Association of Hispanic Journalists); and more.
AD: What accomplishments have come out of the event?
MG: Every year, amazing things come out of the collision between people at Newsgeist. People hire and get hired, people find new ways to collaborate and start projects together. They come up with new ideas and innovations and in at least one case I know of, a national news site was launched.
AD: You mentioned a national news site was launched out of Newsgeist. What was the news venture that was launched?
MG: I think I will respect the Chatham House rules and not speak for others.
AD: Do you have specific numbers regarding how many hires have resulted from the unconference?
MG: No. We don’t keep track because this is not the goal of the unconference. But we know, anecdotally, that this happens every year.
AD: Also, what are some examples of companies doing the hiring and some of the names of those who have been hired as a result of Newsgeist?
MG: Again, Chatham House rules.