Melding the Media: Brokering Opinion Online in New Media Environment

Article excerpt

Opportunities and threats provide the carrots and sticks for effective strategic plans.

All this came together for me at NCEW last year.

First, the threat became palpable at the Pittsburgh convention in September, as a prophetic former publisher stunned editorial writers by saying they had three years to prove the value of their pages in a world saturated with internet opinion, or vanish along with stock tables and box-score agate.

Then, in December, an amazing opportunity emerged when the Knight Foundation offered millions of dollars in grants as it called for proposals to revolutionize news in the twenty-first century.

Knight's challenge prompted NCEW to propose that it establish "The Opinion Brokerage," websites using cutting-edge multimedia platforms to make exchanges of editorial opinion instantaneously participatory.

What emerged from all this, it seemed to me, was a new consensus. The National Conference of Editorial Writers has a new mission: Setting the agenda for expressing opinion in a new media environment.

I hadn't thought about any of this when first asked to chair a new Multimedia Committee for NCEW last year, not fully understanding what this new group--formerly known as the Broadcast Committee--was supposed to do.

But the need for a new approach became clearer after John Oppedahl spoke at our annual September meeting.

As NCEW member Eddie Roth recently reminded us, Oppedahl challenged NCEW to take on a leadership role in re-inventing the editorial page. He warned that:

"Opinion pages have thirty-six months to prove their worth to publishers, or be prepared to go the way of stock tables, television listings, agate type on sports pages, and other traditional elements of the print edition that, if not entirely eliminated, have seen their former prominence diminished."

Oppedahl, as many of you know, is an industry innovator, and former publisher of the San Francisco Chronicle and The Arizona Republic. He has been consulting with NCEW on its strategic direction, assisting immediate past president J.R. Labbe and now president Neil Heinen who have led this effort for the board.

Despite rapid changes in the newspaper business, changes in its audience, costs, and changing competition for ad dollars, Oppedahl said, the value of opinion content can continue to grow in this "new world" business order. The challenge for editorial pages is how to remain the most valuable source for political information, informed judgment, and relevant local opinion in a world where the role of print is diminished.

But how can this be accomplished, with more eyes turning to YouTube and Google on computer screens, more eyes gazing at cell phone screens now alive with video, web feeds, blogs, podcasts and e-mail?

The answer is to enable NCEW to lead the way. One approach was conceived by David Holwerk, based on some suggestions from Eddie Roth, myself, and others. Holwerk drafted a grant proposal for the NCEW Foundation, and submitted it on a terribly tight deadline to the Knight Foundation at the end of December,

Holwerk called this concept "The Opinion Brokerage," seeking a grant of $500,000 to establish "a new partnership between professional print and broadcast opinion operations and their audiences, aimed at empowering citizens and the communities in which they live."

As Holwerk envisioned it:

"The Opinion Brokerage would leverage the resources and experience of the National Conference of Editorial Writers to develop new partnerships between local communities and local newspaper and television opinion operations. It would build the capacity of local community organizations to communicate via online media on many fronts: with their members; with traditional local media; with public officials; and with other organizations that have shared interests."

By linking NCEW, the nation's preeminent organization of opinion journalists, with local community organizations, The Opinion Brokerage would help usher in a new era of opinion journalism, accomplishing two goals:

* Develop a model, open-source community opinion website that balances impact and sophistication of features with practicality, sustainability, and ease of use. …