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The great divide over news: same old debate or an entrepreneurial future

This has been a great week to step back and view the great divide that is the debate over the future of journalism.

On Monday, Russell Adams of the Wall Street Journal wrote about a series of articles that appeared in the Detroit Free Press regarding Medicare open enrollment. The big controversy? The idea for the coverage initiated from an advertiser, Humana Inc.!

About the same time, the media began to cover the fantastic potential of Twitter lists. Some media did more than cover the innovation. They began using it in ways that will be helpful to their readers.

Lastly, journalism professor and author Jeff Jarvis wrote a wonderful blog post titled, “The future of journalism is entrepreneurial” that spoke of the needed spirit of innovation that veteran journalists, as well as those aspiring to the profession, need to embrace to revitalize news reporting.

In Detroit, the Free Press pursued a legitimate story idea from an organization that pays the newspaper to print advertising as well. Free Press executives say Humana “had no involvement or say” in the articles. In addition, “the paper undertook the special Medicare section because it involved an issue that was topical and relevant to readers.”

As a reporter in Florida, and an editor in Akron, Ohio, I welcomed good story ideas regardless of their source. Of course, journalists should give careful consideration to the agenda behind the story suggestion, but in the end, good reporting usually prevents any manipulation.

To automatically reject a story idea because an advertiser suggests it simply closes the door on a valuable resource.

Thankfully, there is an increasing amount of innovative thinking being employed at news organizations. Witness the coverage of Twitter lists, and how some organizations are putting them to use.
 
In a column for CNN.com, Pete Cashmore, CEO of the blog Mashable and a social media expert, describes these lists as tools that allow “users to create collections of interesting people to follow on the micro-messaging service.

“From lists of sports stars to comedians to political pundits, Twitter has provided its members with the tools required to splice a torrent of updates into a series of relevant, topic-based streams.”

What is increasingly interesting is how organizations such as the Huffington Post and New York Times are using them. The HuffPo used the lists as part of its coverage of last night’s World Series Game 6. It created lists of sports journalists who tweet, accepted reader tweets and provided their own coverage.

The New York Times has released its own lists of NYT journalists who tweet. I have signed up for the economics list and business news list. I’m curious as to the result.

But the points is that this is an entrepreneurial approach. And it is what Jeff Jarvis is referring to.

“I talked with someone recently at an old, large media company who said he believes it is impossible for them to remake themselves for this new, much smaller entrepreneurial world,” he wrote. “There’s just too much shutdown cost and pain involved and the people inside these towers don’t think like people in garages. Still, I see opportunity for them….(W)hen journalists leave those towers, their companies should invest in their futures as entrepreneurs: Set them up with blogs, sell their ads, promote them, and continue to reap the value of their experience and brands (without the cost).”

Let’s see. Work with talented journalists, and even help them sell ads, versus close yourself off from your own business community if they spend money with you.

Which makes sense to you?

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