"The future of news."
Such an incredibly loaded phrase, soaked with history, imprisoned by its own myths and misconceptions, usually the subject of much doom-saying, finger-wagging, "look-at-what-the-Internet-and-technology-has-done!" tone. Search for yourself. Type "the future of news" on Google and drink the misery. Talking about the future of news too often translates to talking about the past.
That's exactly how I felt when a friend, a fellow 20-something journalist, tweeted the news release of a 10-part public television series called "The Future of News," produced by the Newseum in Washington, D.C. and scheduled to air next year. "You've got to be kidding," the friend wrote in a subsequent instant message. "This is the future of news?"Hosted by Frank Sesno, a veteran TV newsman and a professor at George Washington University, guests include ABC's Sam Donaldson, NBC's Ann Curry and The Washington Post's Bob Woodward and The Daily Beast's Tina Brown. They'll be joined by press critic and new media expert Jay Rosen, Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, Politico co-founder Jim VandeHei, author and blogger Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit and, perhaps the least known of the group, Charles Sennott of The Global Post. They're all very knowledgeable people with very deep resumes. And they're all over 40 years old.
Which, given the context -- "the future of news" -- is unacceptable, not in a still evolving new media ecosystem where one of the most influential media barons is Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's 25-year-old CEO.
As a profession, journalism values experience. I know. I was a newspaper reporter for nearly 11 years, first at the Mountain View Voice, then at the San Francisco Chronicle and the Philadelphia Daily News, before landing at The Washington Post. You work your way up, covering cops, school board elections, city hall meetings, before being assigned to cover a political campaign, maybe write long-term narrative features, perhaps work on a year-long, prize-winning investigation. Young reporters (mostly) bow their heads down in their cubicles, while older, more experienced editors (mostly) sit at their offices, stewing over the mix for tomorrow's A-1 (read: front page) line-up. That's how it works. Or that's how it used to work.
But at a time in which technology in general -- and the Internet in particular -- has blown up not just the business model but also the definition of news, the top-down, tried-and-true news model nears its extinction. We are at a critical, all-hands-on-deck moment in the history of news. It's not just about who's creating it -- though at a time of cuts and lay-offs, that's a big concern -- but also how it's being consumed. It's time for young journalists and, just as important, young technologists to how and explain how news is expanding and being re-defined in a world under Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
Yes, news is still about accuracy and fairness, about shoe-leather, on-the-ground reporting, about facts speaking for themselves. But news in this social networking, here-comes-everybody era is also about connection, conversation and community. News is connection: you, the reader, can connect with the content on the screen, be it text, audio or video, or a mash-up of all three. News is conversation: an article is not the final product but merely the beginning of a conversation -- and you, the reader, can add to it, question it, pass it around within your own online social networks. News is community: when you visit a news site, may it be Time.com or Philly.com, you must feel like you're a part of that digital news hub. "A good newspaper," the playwright Arthur Miller once said, "is a nation talking to itself." Because of recent technological advances, it's now possible to live up to that.
In an interview, Paul Sparrow, vice president of broadcasting for the Newseum, said young pioneers such as Adrian Holovaty of the micro-local start-up EveryBlock are also featured in Newseum's TV series. Touch-screen technology will be used to introduce viewers to "cutting-edge, alternative" news sites, he added. But Sparrow noted that the TV series is "targeted at a public television audience."
"We're not dealing with 20 year olds," Sparrow said. "Most people who watch public TV skew older."
But the public TV audience still needs to hear from 20- and 30-somethings who are at the forefront of the changes, who are living, breathing and interacting with news in an entirely different way. For the record, I am not volunteering. I have more questions than answers:
How are text messages, Twitter feeds and Facebook status upending the notion of breaking news? I heard about Michael Jackson's death not from The New York Times or CNN, but from a text message sent by my cousin Geoffrey. How are technological advances breaking the walls between print and broadcast journalism? If all news end up on a screen, delivered in text, video and audio, what will separate a print journalist from a TV reporter and a radio correspondent? Are we adequately preparing a new generation of multi-skilled professional journalists, who must work alongside citizen journalists? How is technology emphasizing the importance of diversity -- racial, sexual, political, etc. -- in our newsrooms? The advent of niche, social networking sites targeting various minority groups leave news organizations with no excuse to not reflect the diversity of opinions on a particular event, topic or person. At a time in which readers can easily research the personal and professional backgrounds of reporters and editors -- nothing escapes Google -- is there such a thing as objectivity? Or is "transparency the new objectivity," as David Weinberger of the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet & Society has repeatedly said?
To suggest guests or sites to feature for Newseum's "The Future of News" series, comment below or send as a tweet @huffposttech using the hashtag #futurenewseum.
Follow Jose Antonio Vargas on Twitter: www.twitter.com/joseiswriting