Aspen Institute Roundtable on Local Journalism and the Public Square

How the fractured media landscape can come together in a ‘public square’ was a dominant theme of a roundtable conversation held last Thursday by the Aspen Institute in Washington D.C.

Along with fewer than 20 varied industry leaders, I heard the presentations of two new white papers from the institute, which are a follow up to the Knight Commission Report on Informing Communities.  This was the seventh in a series of roundtables.

There’s quite a bit that came from the morning session, but I wanted to start by sharing some initial takeaways on the presentions and subsequent conversation.

Norm Ornstein on Creating a New Public Square

  • Mid 20th century America created a public square with limited-choice network TV news and widely circulated newspapers. This featured ‘a common set of facts’
  • Future public squares may be varied, but there should be largely shared set of ideas.
  • This is a reason for partisanship today, a lack of shared perspective
  • Keep newspapers alive until business plans arrive — this could be seen through growth in tablet usage

Re-Imagining Journalism: Local News for a Networked World

  • If journalism was created today what would it look like?
  • $1 billion in federal spending annually on advertising, largely national, but that could be brought locally to grow public affairs on a smaller level

Questions I was left asking and interesting take aways I had:

  • The web has put a mirror to ourselves, and the web metrics question our belief in audience interest in our best product.
  • Aren’t social networks and other web-based tribes the future of the public square?
  • Can the need for heavy broadband infrastructure be someday trumped by advanced wireless technology for access
  • Steve Buttry: “We operate the only machine named in the Constitution” meaning newspapers

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