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It's A Marriage -- Journalists and Citizen Journalists

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A new series of Newseum-sponsored panels is featuring mostly old-guard media luminaries, those quickly trying to acclimate -- and in some cases, struggling to adapt (at least profitably or intelligently) -- to the brave new world of journalism circa 2009.

The next generation of online journalists and news consumers are quite conspicuously absent. These panelists are not "Digital Natives," a term Harvard Internet guru John Palfrey has coined, like the Millennials who are determining the industry's future purely by their habits -- getting their fill of substantive news in condensed formats via venues not directly (or until recently) engaged in the critical news-gathering process.

But these burgeoning venues are evolving. News aggregators have begun to recognize the importance of original, creative, and investigative reportage as central to their future livelihood, the soundness of the news, and our individual and collective welfare as a society.

They recognize they can survive, even as the print dominoes fall, by embracing the full responsibilities of a bold, free press.

Of course, the source of the "news crisis" is far more entrenched in the insanely expansive variety of media alive today than in the financial difficulties of one or two institutions. And the reality is that most young Americans -- recent grads, college students, and those younger (and many older) -- are finding their news online -- with the occasional CNN Newsroom or O'Reilly Factor segment, and certainly with the more frequent Daily Show or Colbert Report episode. But they can find cable-quality productions online, too, these days.

That's why my grandfather, a longtime professor of communications and public policy at Rutgers, assigns the entire New York Times's "Weekender" to his classes. He knows that the Golden Age newspaper reader is a dying breed and he wants to ensure -- be it in print or online -- that his students are reading as global citizens and not as New York Giants fans or iPod fiends alone. But I'm less concerned than him about the extinction of the modern American newspaper.

At Scoop44, which we're relaunching this October, we've unified a cohort of talented journalists (news-diggers and admittedly analysts as well) to cover the Obama administration, politics, and culture. I told newly minted Huff Post Tech Editor two years ago -- when we first launched Scoop08, a predecessor site covering the campaign -- that the future of the news relies on "journalists working with citizen journalists" to generate a hybrid/coalition model of paid and unpaid journalists who know the rules of the game and how to pursue the "civic purposefulness" in stories -- what really matters.

I still very much believe that.

Scoop44 is a non-profit, and our operation is funded principally by a Knight Foundation grant. The future of journalism -- in many ways like medicine -- hinges on a public-interest model that preserves its connection with the needs of citizens. And that means bold experimentation.

What Albert Ibarguen, Knight's President, identifies so compellingly is the need for continued boots-on-the-ground reporting as technology advances organically -- and irrevocably. It's not about securing print paper but preserving the print mechanism for thorough, national and community-rooted reporting.

Foundations and media arms must continue to innovate, but not with the next HD (so every strand of Larry King's hair is visible).

Maybe the answer is Twitter devices plantable on your thumbs for journalist populations under authoritarian rule (but not to showcase the number of calories consumed per meal).

There's a fine line.

Most important, media outlets, alongside Knight and other foundations, must invent a new news paradigm (or revive an age-old one) where the quality of stories and their interaction with the public take precedence over the speed, frequency, or "high-techiness" of the medium. Yes, in many respects, back to the fundamentals. The technology is here to stay -- the news is not necessarily unless we protect it.

"How many readers/listeners/viewers do I have?" is an antiquated question. The real criteria should be "How many of these news consumers thoughtfully react/engage/explore after the initial story-telling is done?" The new news is clearly an enduring dialogue between citizens and journalists.

In my previous post on this subject, I said the answer is to ask readers to invest in the journalistic process from the cradle to the grave -- learning the significance of journalism (that is, in its most central form of "hard news").

I still very much believe that, too.

Finally, journalism can be taught sexily. I'd like to think I tried this summer with an intro journalism seminar (syllabus attached) targeting underserved youth, covering Pres. Obama and Justice Sotomayor, at the Martin Luther King Jr. HS for Law, Advocacy and Community Justice in Manhattan.

Our curriculum used Obama and Sotomayor as vehicles for learning more broadly about active citizenship -- a kind of requisite engagement locally as well as nationally.

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