Monthly Archives: June 2009

More than deputies: A definition of journalism for the 21st Century

Let’s confirm who professional journalists are: People (trained or not), paid to produce content under the mastheads of traditional news outlets.

Let’s confirm what they’re supposed to do: This is a tricky one. No matter how many times I have asked, and how many people, across Australia, the USA and the UK, nobody can give me a core definition of journalism. Maybe it’s a secret. A magician’s code. Part of the smoke and mirrors used to convince everyone they’re worth being paid for over anyone without a mogul. Professional journalists promote their work as a noble art, one that demands a rigor most can not attain. With prompting, a professional journalist will usually agree you need training, you need balance, fairness, fact collection and analysis.
In a conversation I had on Twitter with people in Australia following the Twitter’s Impact on Media and Journalism mini-conference (actually a 2-hour seminar of sorts), Brad Howarth, a professional journalist who was attending says journalism will not be “harmed or replaced by Twitter.” Another Australian, Renai Lemay, followed his presentation at the same conference with a post for ZDNet where he likens his role as a professional journalist to a knight, protecting the honour of a “great lady of noble birth” and describes Twitter as a “playground for pleasure of journalists.” Somewhere to reconnect with the audience. While Renai seeks to support Twitter’s role, he demonstrates a very Lipmann-esque view – it’s still them and us, and being able to play amongst the great unwashed is a novel way of “cutting the fat out of journalism.”

Bringing it to the US, last night, on Lou Dobbs’ show on CNN, the Face Off segment featured a rather strange topical area of ‘Social Networks & Journalism: Is traditional media obsolete?’, Professor Robert Thompson of Syracuse University held the same line as Renai. He described citizen journalists as “acting like deputies … it’s just like we used to use eyewitnesses.” In what was supposedly a debate (which Dobbs pointedly remarked at the start he hoped would be won by Professor Thompson), Micah Sifryn, co-founder of the Personal Democracy Forum began well by saying “anyone can commit and act of journalism.” However he followed that up by agreeing with Lou Dobbs that it “takes more than just holding up your mobile phone and filming stuff and then putting it online to be a journalist.”

Oh really?

My issue is that all of this is either a. focused on the media used for journalism rather than what journalism actually is, or  b. garbled propaganda nonsense.

Let me be clear. For those who don’t know me, I was a traditional, paid journalist for 15 years. I then moved to Public Relations, and then into teaching journalism, marketing, PR, event management and advertising at college. Happily, I’m back in traditional professional journalism myself, as the Boulder Startup Examiner for Examiner.com. (I make enough for a cup of coffee a week). I’m even currently undertaking graduate research in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at CU in Boulder (on social media communities), and I TA on the Intro to Journalism and Intro to Advertising classes. I’m a co-founder of a startup which will enable people to create more content and make better connections online. I’m pretty well engaged on all fronts.

And my question is thus: If traditional, professional journalists (those I’ve identified above) want to say what they do is different to what is able to be done by anyone else, I believe they have to say what makes it so, in order to be understood. So let me help you professionals out. The book, Elements of Journalism, authored by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosentiel, provides 10 elements of journalism. They are:

1. Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth.
2. Its first loyalty is to the citizens.
3. Its essence is discipline of verification.
4. Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover.
5. It must serve as an independent monitor of power.
6. It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise.
7. It must strive to make the significant interesting, and relevant.
8. It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional.
9. Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience.
10. The rights and responsibilities of citizens to be media literate.

But I’m questioning these traditional elements. While the 10th Element only appeared in this text in 2007 as a direct response to the power of Web 1.0, I believe it’s time to entirely redefine the concept of journalism. To strip it back and challenge the notion of what it is – a notion that has root in the medium, not the craft. All of the above elements of journalism reflect a somewhat Lipmann-esque attitude. But at last in the 21st Century, John Dewey really gets a turn. At journalism’s very core is one thing – communication. So I’ve developed a new definition of what journalism is:


Journalism is communication through any means that enables two things – a. the transmission of factual information about all factors that make up society, and b. validation, authentication and discussion of opinions, beliefs and commentary.

In the past, given the limited and expensive range of tools open to people, journalists were defined as a separate group of people. Training in the media they worked in, and how best to ‘do’ journalism to communicate messages were the focus. But those constraints have left us. The best journalism does not rely on the old elements – nor the old media. It doesn’t rely on training, or a paypacket.

Will journalism still exist when the moguls move onto more profitable ventures? Yes. Is it noble and necessary for democracy? Yes. Does it need defending? No (from what?). Is it the realm of the few? No, not any more. It’s not Twitter that is changing it. It’s Web 2.0. All social media. It’s going to be even greater when even more people are creating the content. That’s democracy.

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How to create a stir – write about women in startups

I’m writing for the online news site, Examiner.com as the Boulder Startup Examiner.

Why? Am I insane? Don’t I have enough to do?

I felt compelled to do it. Boulder is a wonderful town, with a fantastic tech community of people. It’s a really big community, for a small town. It’s exciting, vibrant and smart. It’s full of incredible people. And they’re all doing their own thing.

We’re all working with a similar environment. We see lots of familiar people every week, and there are lots of tech events focused on the community. But we have different lives, experiences and industries. There are lots of people here I’ve never met – and when many of those people are ones I’ve heard of and I know have heard of me in our ‘small’ community, that’s disappointing. We have a wealth of things to draw on that don’t get any focus, simply because there’s no professional journalism covering it.

So that’s what I’m trying to do with my Examiner role. I’m treating it as I would a professional journalistic venture. It’s not personal (that’s what my blog’s for). It’s actual journalism. The way I used to do it. It’s amazing how you never forget. And I’m really enjoying it.

I’m putting together a plan of writing one article a week on five different topic areas. (Let’s see how my time management works with that!) Today’s topic area was Women in Tech. I’ll be writing on that once a week. And today’s story relates to how women who work in Boulder startups simply don’t seem to have the same networking opportunities the men of Boulder do. A pretty self-evident post, I thought. I got to interview some wonderful women (another bonus of working on Examiner is chatting with local startups I’ve never run across, or have only met briefly!). I said to Tara and Grace I wanted to focus on women in Boulder startups. It wasn’t their idea, it was mine. And they came to the party. We had a lovely chat over coffee last week. I recorded the chat, and I wrote the piece.

It seems to have hit a bit of a nerve with some people in various elements of social media, and I couldn’t be happier. I believe the article is respectful of Boulder, the community and both men and women. If you read beyond the headline (as any journalism school will explain, the headline is just the foothold into the story) you get a balanced view of women in startups here in Boulder.

I invite you to read the article yourself, and leave a comment. I now know I’ll definitely be covering women in startups in Boulder every week. Because it’s a great topic, obviously close to my heart. And nobody else covers it.

Our day at the Colorado Chocolate Festival 2009

One primarily for friends and family – and anyone who would love a day of gorging chocolate.

Charlie and I went with Marissa to Denver last month to the Colorado Chcolate Festival. We spent the day sampling chocolate, and watching Charlie try to eat more than his body weight in the stuff. It was great fun. There were stacks of samples, lots of things to see and sample, from all sorts of retaillers. There was even a jumping castle at the back which Charlie made the most of.

A really good day out. Enjoy our little video!

The chick flick of startup founders

Sometimes I get reminded why I’m doing this.dreamstime_2419283

There’s so much going on right now. I’m exhausted a lot of the time. I have no idea how Jed keeps this relentless pace up. No wonder I’ve called him robot boy for so long.

Today I managed to squeeze in coffee with my good friend, Mark (@soctechnologist) after my first meeting for the day, and before I came home to hit more screen time. During our chat, we talked about something that happened in my TheFunded class last night. One of the mentors asked who planned on building the next billion dollar company. Many hands went in the air.

But I hesitated.

Why? As a startup founder, I run across lots of other startups whose focus is on the dollar. That’s what they’re interested in. That’s what lots of people create their lives around. For many people, being involved in a startup is kinda like taking an entry in the lottery – it’s that kind of gamble. For some it’s that gambling addiction that keeps them in there. It’s all about the payout. Money is the focus. Startups for them are like a drug.

But not me.

As I said to Mark today, heck, if money was my focus I’d still be living in Sydney, in my house with my secure job (that I loved), our two cars. My family. My friends. My dogs. I wouldn’t have packed it all up and moved here. I didn’t do it for a gamble. While I enjoy the odd flutter, I don’t buy lottery tickets.

I explained, looking around the enormous room we were in at all the people sitting with their coffee and lunch, that if we asked everyone in that room who had used a search engine on their computer the last time they were on it, I’ll bet every hand in the room would go into the air (and in fact, I bet all of them would have said Google was the search they had chosen). People are automatically going to look for stuff online. They do it automatically. That’s what the internet is for, right?

I then said if we asked all those same people who created content at any point in the last week, a minimal number of hands would go up. And I’m talking about any kind of content. Video, audio, text. A reply or comment on someone else’s creation, even.

Everyone looks for stuff, but a tiny percentage actually create it. And that’s bad.

StatementThe democratization of media – the real power of the internet – happens when people create content, not just when they search and read other peoples’ stuff. Democracy is not just about the infrastructure being there, it’s about people using it to interact and get involved.

I am jumping into this startup because my focus is on making creating content easier – for everyone. The internet won’t be fully democratized until everyone has a real voice, and the barriers to using it are minimized. Scribetribe.us will provide the whole world with that opportunity. From a small perspective, right here in America, I want to empower that homeless guy brandishing a cardboard sign outside the supermarket who has access to the internet at the local library for free, to have his presence felt. I want him to be able to more easily build his own blog, interact with others, get onto Twitter. Have a voice.

Imagine what an impact that would have.

And then take it across the world. That’s what I’m a part of. That’s the vision.

As I said to both my team last night and to Mark this morning, I’m probably best described as the chick flick of startup founders. I’d really like to be able to stop scrounging for quarters, but that’s not why I’m doing this. While others in startup land might be chasing the big money payout, my focus is elsewhere. And you know what? I’m more than happy with that.

Focusing on founders – the Founder Institute

There are numerous seed and incubator programs in operation, all geared towards getting startups on their feet, funded and on their way. Most of these programs have a similar framework. Startups pitch an idea, and the program decides which are the best investments for their time and money. The incubator then works with that handful of startups and focuses on helping them get going over a few weeks or months, with varying amounts of money, visiting mentors, speakers etc. In return they get a piece of the startup’s pie.

Incubators are a prized involvement for a startup so the application process is highly competitive. For example, in 2009, Boulder-based Techstars’ third year, they received 527 applications from all over the world. The program then had the daunting task of whittling it down by about 90%.

A new type of program entered the fray this year. Silicon Valley-based The Founder Institute, headed by Adeo Ressi, launched The Funded, an incubator which features interaction with a range of mentors, all geared towards helping get startups off the ground. However, the Funded has a different perspective than most others.FI logo

You’re more than welcome to go through the program in detail if you follow the earlier link, but to me the key aspect is that The Funded’s program focuses on the founders themselves, not just one startup idea that they have. Looking at most successful entrepreneurs today, many of them have ideas that ultimately didn’t work out – but The Founder Institute believes that one failure doesn’t automatically make them a bad selection for an incubator. Instead, focusing on working with people who have all the particular founder qualities necessary to build great companies is far more likely to produce dividends.

The Founder Institute invited people to complete an application outlining themselves and their startup idea (like the other incubators do). But after that, those applicants deemed to have the most promising/fitting qualities were invited to undertake a 5-part test. As a result, there are startups in all sorts of different areas, at all stages of development. The test we each sat was produced by the Founder Institute in collaboration with other specialists – the idea is to gain a quantifiable reflection of those who are most likely to ‘make it’ based on their personality and IQ traits (of course, much of the results of this will not be apparent for a while yet – we have to launch ourselves to see the outcomes).

FI vision logo

Undertaking the test was a real adventure.

Each of our three founders was invited to take the test. It was delivered online, parts of it were timed, and one whole section was on vocabulary. It reminded me a lot of a cross between an IQ test and the GRE exam. There was even some math (shudder) – and questions that looked like they could have needed to include math but didn’t (IQ). It took about 1.5 hours to get through it all, and we sat it independently (I did mine at 6am before the kids got up. Jed did his that evening after I’d gone to bed.)

The funniest part was that scribetribe’s founders had a phone conference to talk about various things the evening after we’d all done the test. It was done and over. But Jed, Daz and I were still talking about the questions. “What did you put for this?” “Oh, I ran out of time in that section.” Littered with shared laughter, there was a really serious, telling side of us all in our focus on having done the best we possibly could. It really showed to me how there are little aspects to our personalities which complement each other’s, help us work really well together, and at the same time amplify each other’s particular strengths. It was very interesting to see how competitive Jed and I can be with each other (but he cares more than I. I would never repeatedly point out that I got a question right that he didn’t. Even though I did ;)) Just as you would in high school, we worked out the answers to the few questions we could remember and reflected on our (well… my) agony in not being able to make sense of others.

At the end of it all, all three of us were accepted into the program, which has just 75 founders for 2009, its inaugural year. All the founders are broken into smaller working groups to work on each week’s assignments, to discuss and brainstorm – it’s fabulous because all three of us are in different working groups, and are contributing and receiving complementary information in those smaller brainstorms. We also, of course, all work together one day a week, have classes with mentors focused on particular areas from ideation to accounting to marketing.

Even funnier than the test? The fact that after each of us had our first working group meeting, I said to Jed, “my group voted me president.” Jed replied, “so did mine.”

We are each thrilled to be part of the Funded – it’s providing each of us with things we need to really make an incredible company together. And with our focus, energy and excitement, Scribetribe’s alpha launch at the end of this summer is going to be phenomenal.