Retired Knoxville News Sentinel reporter/editor/columnist and UT School of Journalism and Electronic Media lecturer Georgiana Vines invited Jack Lail, Bob Benz, Don Ferguson, Mark Harmon, and me to discuss technology and the media with her Media Management class.

My report after the jump...

Jack Lail, Managing Editor/Multimedia at the Knoxville News Sentinel, said the survival of newspapers is up in the air and spoke about how the News Sentinel is transitioning from a traditional print operation to an internet company, noting that it is new territory and nobody knows how to do it. He said the technology they use is not all that exciting (as he was streaming live video of the panel discussion from his iPhone), and they are figuring out how to use simple things like cellphones, laptops, and open source software in new ways. He said they are stealing, er, practicing "creative borrowing" to adopt ideas from other mediums such as blogging.

Bob Benz, former VP of Interactive Media for Scripps Newspaper Division and now a partner with Maroon Ventures, said there is a "massive disruption" in journalism because of the economy and a fundamental shift in the news industry. He said that journalists must also be entrepreneurs and need to learn multi-media story telling. He talked about online advertising and the ability to target buyers more effectively. As an example, he noted that he gets an auto advertising section in his paper every day, but he's only interested in it about once every three years, as compared to a targeted online ad that appears when he gets around to researching cars online.

I spoke about blogging, how and why I got started, a little bit about the technology (and provided a handout with an overview of the technology) and the relationship between bloggers and mainstream media and the growth of "citizen journalism." I also talked about being selected as the Tennessee blogger for the Democratic National Convention and a little about our experience there.

Don Ferguson, retired Knoxville News Sentinel reporter/editor/columnist, was there to represent the "old school." Saying he was an "old newspaper man," Don talked about how things have changed over his many decades in the business. He said he doesn't trust information on blogs or even guest/citizen columns in the newspaper. He doesn't like comments on newspaper websites because he doesn't care about other people's opinions, although the number of comments is a way to gauge interest in a story. He said he does, however, find opinion polls interesting. He also doesn't like all the letters to the editor, and notes that back in the 1960s there would be at most two or three per day.

Mark Harmon, Associate Professor in the School of Journalism and Electronic Media and Knox County Commissioner, talked about live-blogging County Commission meetings at KnoxViews, saying he believed it was a first. He said the panel discussions had raised a lot of interesting questions about media literacy, the economics of web information, the concentration of media ownership, and the demand for more for less from less. (He later cited an example of how Gannett is consolidating signal engineering at a centralized location which will eliminate several jobs at their local TV news stations.) He also noted that local journalists "lurk" on blogs and neighborhood discussion groups to keep up with what's going on and to get story ideas.

After the opening remarks there was further discussion of some of the issues raised and some Q&A.

We talked more about managing comments at newspaper websites, and Jack Lail said it was a problem and explained their process. Any editor can act as moderator and edit or remove comments, and they depend a lot on user feedback with the "report abuse" feature. I noted that they have "created a monster" and that bloggers actually have more experience at this because they have been doing it longer. I noted that we moderate aggressively at KnoxViews. This led to more discussion about libel and defamation and protections for site operators in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

A student said her impression was that there was little or no regulation of the internet and asked if there is any. We discussed the DMCA and COPA, the Child Online Protection Act, but otherwise there isn't much. [Ed. note: for any students reading this, it should be noted that the same regulations apply with regard to copyrights, trademarks, libel and defamation, etc. as for print, as do the same journalistic ethics.] There was also some discussion about net neutrality issues and bandwidth metering, which Bob Benz noted could have a "chilling effect" on online media consumption.

Another student asked about overt racism in online comments related to the election. Jack Lail said there were some problems but they managed it aggressively. I said it hadn't been as much of a problem at KnoxViews because of the character of the community and that we were "ruthless" in moderating it and banning abusive users. I also said we used technology to redirect referrals from hate speech sites and other troublemakers away from our site.

Another student asked me if censorship drove away traffic and if we would have more traffic if we allowed more open discussion. I explained that the purpose of KnoxViews is to provide an outlet for progressive/liberal point of view that is not represented in the conservative local media, and that while we welcome discussion of opposing points of view, a few troublemakers can make any kind of civil conversation impossible. I noted that our traffic fell off when the News Sentinel opened up comments on their website, but that was OK with me because some of those people are Jack's problem now. I agreed that we would probably have more traffic with a more wide open site, and I wasn't saying that either approach is a good or a bad thing but that it's just not the kind of traffic we want. Bob Benz noted that it's not the type of traffic advertisers want, either.

(Photo of me courtesy of Jack Lail's iPhone.)

UPDATE: Jack Lail's commentary.

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