Author Archives: peggyholman

The Importance of News Literacy

On October 23-25, sixty journalists, K-12 educators, scholars and researchers, students, civic leaders and media literacy advocates came together around the question:

Engaging people in civic life:  What is our work at the intersection of journalism and education?

One product of this work was a consensus statement on the importance of news literacy:

News surrounds us and as such news literacy is an essential life skill for everyone. To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson: Knowledge of current issues is essential to informed citizenship in a democracy.  We are concerned about the effects of media messages on children and others. Modern participatory culture makes every citizen a potential creator of news in social media, blogs, email and the web. We believe a literate citizen understands the  purposes, processes and economics of news.

Therefore, it is time for American education to include the acquisition of 21st-century, critical-thinking skills for analyzing and judging the reliability of news, differentiating among facts, opinions and assertions in the media we create and distribute. News literacy standards can be research based in multiple content areas. It can be taught most effectively in cross-curricular, inquiry-based formats at all grade levels. It is a necessary component for literacy in contemporary society.

For more on the conference, visit


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Surfing the Tidal Wave of Change

It is official.  The good news is that there is now broad-based agreement that the news industry is in crisis, as clearly described by Mark Fitzgerald and Jennifer Saba in their SPECIAL REPORT: Turn and Face the Change — With Newspaper Industry in Crisis, ‘Everything’s on the Table’

While acknowledging that the situation creates tremendous opportunity for those who have a viable strategy for riding the waves of the unknown, Fitzgerald and Saba offer no specifics.  That is where Journalism that Matters can make a difference.

There are three common patterns that most of us use when responding to crisis. Two of them have passed their utility in this situation.  The third is the most radical and the most likely to succeed in today’s environment.

Pattern 1:  Just Do It
For most of us, our first response is to act from habit, to ignore everything but the symptoms that are in front of us, fix it and get back to business as usual.  When that isn’t enough, the crisis gets worse.

Pattern 2:  Take Charge
When the situation is so dire that it can no longer be ignored, the strategy perhaps most commonly employed is to act from certainty and try to manage it.  Study it, set targets and objectives, go to work, measure the results.  When it is a technical problem, this strategy works well.  When there is something bigger going on, as there is in an industry that is losing its audience and its sources of income, this approach will likely fail.

Pattern 3:  Learn to surf

Some of our most cherished assumptions– and our ability to manage them – have broken down.  Many are throwing up their hands and saying, “I’m stumped.  I don’t know what to do.”  Business as usual is over. When there are no clear answers and the dynamics of the situation are in a state of flux, what strategies allow an organization to deal with the unknown effectively?
A strategy that has proven successful – and we have all experienced at some point in our lives – is to act from inquiry, in essence to make it up as we go along. There is information in the disturbances we face.  After all, bloggers are doing well.  What messages for our work are hidden in their success?  There is the promise of creative and innovative possibilities waiting for us within the realm we currently view as unknown.  To find them, we have to explore.
There is actually a field of practice, called Whole System Change, that has been studying and experimenting with handling the chaos of transformative change well for the last fifty years.  Designed to work with the unknown, it has developed practices that support people in understanding the dynamics at play in complex situations so that they can identify possible directions to pursue.  The industry will be in flux for quite some time.  Those who survive will most likely do so by learning how to have some influence while moving with the flow.

To do so involves working the unknown in ways that make clues to emerging solutions visible and actionable. Informed by theories of complexity science, promising practices apply the dynamics of self-organization to organizational systems. The interaction of diverse entities in a nurturing and challenging context generates the emergence of novel, more useful forms of organization.   As applied to organizations, this involves:

•    Asking ambitious, possibility oriented questions
Given the state of the industry, what is possible now?
What is the role of journalism in a digital age and how is it best provided?

•    Inviting the diversity of the system to participate in shaping responses
Who are the people with authority, resources, expertise, information and need? Who is affected?  Who cares about the future of journalism?
Bring together print, broadcast, new media, media reformers, media educators, citizen journalists, audience and others who care about the future of journalism.

•    Creating the conditions for an open dialogue
This is a complex system that is completely reformulating itself.  By creating hospitable conditions and bringing together people from different aspects of the system, each of which has pieces of the puzzle, entirely new connections can be made.  A picture that none of us can create alone will begin to emerge.
Journalism that Matters has begun to articulate an emerging story of the new news ecology.  It includes: journalism as a conversation rather than a lecture; high touch sourcing/high tech delivery; education that, in addition to the core practice of journalism, includes broad-based media literacy and the art of engagement.

•    Experimenting with promising ideas that emerge
This is not the work of  “take that hill” or “leading the charge”.  Rather, it is the work of asking questions that focus our attention towards deeply felt, collective aspirations, creating hospitable conditions that invite the diversity of the system to step in and take initiative, creating an organic boundary for action through inquiries that express clear intentions.  By following the energy of the exploration, sensing what patterns are emerging, and calling those patterns into collective awareness, novel and often utterly unpredictable responses appear.
That is what we have been doing with Journalism that Matters.  It is no accident that so many of the University of Missouri Fellows have all participated in JtM sessions.  Or that several Knight Challenge grant recipients had their ideas surface or be clarified at a JTM session.  Attendees keep coming back because we are providing a rich, nutrient environment, a diverse mix of participants, and the space to explore possibilities.

This strategy provides the means for a productive relationship with the unknown.  Care to join us?

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An ecology of story for the well-being of community and democracy

My friend and colleague, Tom Atlee, founder of the The Co-Intelligence Institute, developed a map of stories entitled Whole System Learning and Evolution — and the New Journalism that I think has great potential as a way of thinking about what is required for both great stories and great story-telling organizations.
In the version below, I changed a few terms (e.g., “community” became “connect” to create consistency of form) and I added four verbs (in blue) that, framed as questions, I think could provide a tool for assessing the likely effectiveness of a story or a news organization. The questions that Tom’s model sparked for me:

• Does it inform? (a primary focus of traditional journalism)
• Does it engage? (a primary focus of the emerging social networking sites)
• Does it inspire? (almost virgin territory, but hinted at by the idea of “possibility journalism”)
• Does it activate? (also exciting terrain)

An ecology of story

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Six Questions that Matter to Journalism

As I read people’s registration comments for NewPamphleteers/New Reporters – the upcoming JtM gathering in Minnesota, it struck me that people were asking questions and bringing expertise in six areas:

  • Business models
  • Cultivating community
  • Partnerships
  • Content choices
  • Craft
  • Technology

Here’s a picture of what seems to be emerging:

Six questions that matter to journalism

We’ve now got a twitter stream for Journalism that Matters: jtmstream. Join us from June 4-5.

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Possibility Journalism: An Emerging Trend?

As I reflected on Journalism that Matters-Silicon Valley, it struck me that my favorite subject – the power of story to inspire and engage, was a very quiet theme at this particular gathering. It got me thinking about the need to say something about what is emerging is this arena.
It began for me with three threads of the Journalism that Matters-Memphis session:

  • Geneva Overholser, Hurley Chair in Public Affairs Reporting, University of Missouri, introduced herself saying:

“I had been depressed. A couple of years ago, I resolved to find hope. When you open yourself to possibility you are willing to experience stuff you haven’t experienced before.”
What a fabulous discovery: finding hope is a choice. Could Geneva’s comment be indicative of an emerging trend?

  • Then I saw a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. at the National Civil Rights Museum:

“But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars. …”

What a profound insight when so much coverage is about the dark! Why not also look at the stars in the story?

  • The capper was witnessing two veteran reporters interview the mother of Josh Wolf — the video blogger who went to jail for refusing a federal grand jury’s request to turn over video he shot of a burning police car during last year’s G8 protest. The interview prompted me to ask her a question that struck me as a way to see the stars:

“Given all you’ve experienced, what the best possible outcome you can imagine?”

I was stunned by her powerful and cogent response — that she hoped Josh’s situation provided clarity about the application of first amendment rights to emerging types of journalists — because it shifted the interview’s tone from frustration and defeat to hope and possibility.

It made me wonder what would happen if the essential questions of journalism added something to

who? what? when? where? why? and how? — namely,
What’s possible now?

And then Stephen Silha and I interviewed Journalism that Matters alum Sarah Stuteville and one of her partners, Jessica Partnow about the Common Language Project, a startup that took shape at Journalism that Matters-Kalamazoo. CLP puts a human face on international stories.

To my surprise, Jessica told us that asking “what’s possible now” has become central to their style of reporting. Sarah then told us this story:

The first time I used “what’s possible now” was reporting in little Pakistan in Brooklyn. I was hearing about the experience of families of deportations, mostly young men. I was talking to that community and to the non-Pakistani community who had very different feelings. People felt strongly on different sides of same issues. I think the first time I asked “what’s possible now”, may have come out of frustration. It is hard to have conversations and not get anywhere. I threw my hands up and said ok, “what is your ideal solution?” And everything changed. (the interview)

Sarah then offered a second story:

We – Jessica and I – were in the Middle East, talking with a Palestinian about frustrating, polarizing material. He kept repeating the same ideas over and over so we asked that magic question: “given what’s happening, what’s possible now?” It shifted the interview completely, as our contact began envisioning the situation in a completely new way. (the interview)

The stories we tell ourselves shape the way we see the world. And that shapes our behavior. A trend towards asking “what’s possible now?” follows the energy towards our hopes and aspirations. Sounds to me like a trend worth amplifying!!!

A coda to this story: Josh Wolf attended NewsTools 2008. Here’s a video interview done by David Cohn during NewsTools. In a second interview, by From the Frontline, Josh describes an interesting idea for a live internet news network that harnesses live video broadcasting tools like Qik, Flixwagon and coupled with the microblogging tool Twitter and Skype call ins.


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Conflict Sensitive Reporting – In Cypress

Our colleague, Carol Daniel Kasbari hosted a gathering among Cypriot journalists on October 26 & 27, 2007 in Cypress sponsored by the U.S. Embassy’s Bi-communal Support Program. The conference design was in part inspired by Journalism that Matters, using our signature conversational process, Open Space Technology. It was entitled:

Cyprus 2008: What is and might be the role of journalists?

The Symposium brought together journalists from both sides of the “Green Line” as well as from Greece and Turkey for an in-depth discussion on questions such as: objectivity when covering conflict; representation of the Cyprus issue in the media;the importance of maintaining meaningful collaborations among journalists working in the region. A report of the meeting is here: journalists-training-booklet-cyprus.

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Value Network Maps at NewsTools2008

150 journalists, technologists, educators, and others gathered at Yahoo! this afternoon for the launch of NewsTools2008 – the most current JtM gathering that is focused on innovations for “journalism that matters.”

To provide a common framework for the diverse participants, we introduced two “value network maps”; one of the old newsroom and the other of the emerging news ecology, along with a description of Value Network Mapping and Analysis. Here’s the mapping-handout; the same text follows.

Old News Story

For 150 years the editors of American newspapers ruled the media landscape.

The men at the helm of newsrooms, and most editors are male, set agendas.

They directed massive staffs of journalists whose work poured through an assembly line of cultivating sources, writing, editing, production, printing and delivery.

They operated as esteemed members of The Fourth Estate, imagining themselves as independent counterbalances to the forces of power.

The work of reporters, photographers, and editors became more than a craft. It grew to be a profession, with professional wages, benefits and perks.

The public’s appetite and loyalty to their work was immense.

Huge consumer audiences built around the newspapers at the first half of the 20th century. The newspapers pronounced, and the masses listened.

Later, as audiences shifted to television, which broadcast one way, and every household in America tuned in.

Through it all, the words, photos and editorial judgments of the newspaper and television newsrooms, editors, and reporters continued to set local and national agendas.

And it was a hugely profitable business model. Major department stores, auto dealers, and job-seekers aggregated around the news pages and the news content.

Profits for both commercial television stations and monopolistic newspapers rose to 30% or more as massive advertising dollars poured in a mass medium.

Then the world changed.

Chris Peck

Emerging News Ecology V1.0

At the beginning of the 21st century, the World Wide Web changed the business and information distribution model for all media.

No longer were printing presses and transmission towers the only means of communication. A laptop and a broadband hookup did the same work, thank-you.

Journalists for a day, a weekend, or a cause began to supplant journalists at desks, with their pensions and a boss.

The audience formerly known as newspaper readers and television viewers awoke to the freedom of connectivity in a digital age. Virtual communities and international communities of interest transcended geographic communities and the sense of place.

In a flash, media expectations, models and roles all changed.

Media morphed into many-to-many conversations. Content emerged raw and unedited, rather than as carefully parsed verified tidbits produced by trained journalists.

Stories grew on their own, without an editor. Photos were shared without a darkroom.

Bloggers filled content gaps left open or once occupied by paid, professional reporters. User-generated content both encroached on and enriched the media.

Money that once went to news content writers and editors began to flow instead to those who aggregated the news, but did not create it.

Public policy could be shaped by Matt Drudge working in his basement or by a YouTube video captured on a $100 digital camera.

The old media world staggered.

New roles and a new vocabulary have begun emerging.

Some reporters become “beat bloggers” tapping into networks of bloggers to bring complex stories into focus. Community weavers” create a sense of community among the former audience and with formal news entities. Information architects” make intelligible the vast amounts of data and images now available. While editors continue to be sense makers, connecting facts and making story lines visible, ultimately who filters news from noise, how it happens, and who pays for it is still unfolding. Even the definition of “news” is up for grabs as memes — cultural units of information equivalent to genes in the body — replace an event orientation to story.

The new media world has opened the floodgates of opportunity.

– Chris Peck, Peggy Holman, and Stephen Silha


Value Network Mapping and Analysis

Value Network Mapping and Analysis is a tool developed by Verna Allee that displays a holistic picture of a system. This tool was brought to News Tools 2008 to:

· give those unfamiliar with the ‘traditional’ newsroom a clear map of how news was produced and value flowed;

· give those familiar with the “traditional” newsroom an explicit articulation of value flow in that system in contrast to emerging systems of news sourcing and distribution;

· give everyone a common “language” or “mapping tool” to consider the emerging news ecology and how new roles and value flows can help create a thriving environment.

The first step in the process is to identify roles in a system and the second step is to map the value flows.

Roles are real people or groups of people that generate transactions, send messages, engage in interactions, add value, and make decisions. The journalism maps include “reporter” “editor” “source” “community weaver” “advertisers”.

Once these roles were identified, we considered two kinds of value exchange:

Tangible value: All exchanges of goods, services or revenue, including all transactions involving contracts, invoices, return receipt of orders, requests for proposals, confirmations and payments are considered to be tangible value. Products or services that generate revenue or are expected as part of a service are also included in the tangible value flow of goods, services, and revenue.

A simple example is a customer (this is a role) goes to a store and buys groceries from the cashier (role). Money is paid in return for goods – vegetables. If the customer lives in a small town and has an ongoing patronage relationship with the cashier, there might be an intangible value exchange of information about their families and the neighborhood.

Intangible value: Two primary subcategories are included in intangible value: knowledge and benefits. Intangible knowledge exchanges include strategic information, planning knowledge, process knowledge, technical know-how, collaborative design and policy development; which support the product and service tangible value network. Intangible benefits are also considered favors that can be offered from one person to another. Examples include offering political or emotional support to someone. Another example is a research organization asking someone to volunteer their time and expertise in exchange for the intangible benefit of prestige by affiliation.

Once the roles and value flows are mapped, the picture of the whole system can be used to facilitate relationship management in an ecosystem, consider the business web and ecosystem development, consider options for process re-design, support communities of practice, or consider cost benefits and risks in existing and emerging systems.

For more information on Value Network Mapping. visit

Prepared by Kaliya Hamlin,

Other Emerging Roles
We chose three roles – community, beat blogger, and sense-maker to begin to create a map of the emerging news ecology. Other roles that surfaced as we shared stories that provided insight into the map are:
• Curator
• Aggregator
• News Recommender
• Community Host/Manager
• Data Base Manager
• Video Blogger
• Funder
• Information Architect
• Developer
• Programmer
• Network reporter
• Group filter


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