The all-out panic among journalists to save newspapers has prompted a few new tricks of the trade.

Consider endowments to underpin publications as institutions essential to democracy. It could free up the journalists to do what they do without the pressure to perform for the benefit of a corporate business.

At a Bay area conference for the Society of Professional Journalists recently, Victor Cantu, the out-going president of the Chico State chapter, saw a push for nonprofit Web journalism, he said.

What he described got me thinking. Isn’t lack of advertising what makes National Geographic so substantially stunning and professional?

Looking into the idea, I found others are thinking about the benefits of nonprofit journalism as well.

“…only by turning the Post into a nonprofit trust and raising a university-size endowment to support the newsroom could the paper retain the vitality it requires to serve as a successful watchdog over our constitutional system,” wrote Steve Coll of The New Yorker.

Coll refers to an article by David Swensen and Michael Schmidt of The New York Times, in which they argue that if journalism is such a vital part of democracy, then it should be preserved, just as educational institutions, through endowments.

“…there is an option that might not only save newspapers but also make them stronger: Turn them into nonprofit, endowed institutions — like colleges and universities,” the article stated.

This is the best idea I have heard yet. I have always hated the method of newspapers to have to placate advertisers and balance content with ads in an endless dance that is more like a chaotic, disjointed rave than a romantic ballroom dance.

If journalists could find a way to pay the bills without having to worry about ad play, they could focus more on the important elements of great writing, quality reporting and creating a solid package employing all the canons of good journalism, such as interpretation and fairness.

Perhaps creative solutions like this will save American journalism in the end.


One Saturday morning, as I sat watching an Australian barber cutting my 3-year-old’s hair, a man in the seat next to me started to tell me the names of barbers he’d had in the same shop in 1963.

He said they put a bowl on his head and cut around it, and he remembered members of the Elks and Mason lodges filling the seats along the wall and laughing at him. Those men were the fathers of people this man had went to school with, he said.

Stephen Wright, a developmental psychologist and founder of Meaning and Happiness.com, explained the prevailing theories of community psychology as made up of four elements: membership, influence, integration and fulfillment of needs, and shared emotional connection.

In a 2008 study(see p. 10) of Internet users in the Czech Republic, 59.6 percent of the users found that they had a sense of belonging within online communities and 62.1 percent said they felt like someone was listening to them.

Overall, however, I think the benefits are not enough to keep anyone committed to a long-term relationship.

Meanwhile, I pointed to an article in a Men’s Journal and leaned toward the woman in a purple moo-moo and large, dark sunglasses on the other side of me and asked, “Did you see this? Chico is listed as one of the best places to live in 2010.”

She asked me how long I’d lived here.

In five minutes, I learned that she was born in 1938 at The Chico Hospital, which has since turned into a residence, on the corner of 8th Avenue and Esplanade. She’d brought her sister’s grandson to get his hair cut and was taking him to McDonalds afterward. The boy had lost his dad and she was helping out her sister in caring for him while the boy’s mother worked.

I couldn’t help but reel with a sense that this was honest-to-goodness, stick-in-the-mud community that I had walked into.

What a difference from the Facebook “friends” I have or the Myspace page that is collecting cyber-dust at this moment.

Online community offers a lot to some, but mostly, they’re a lot of nothing to people like the ones I met at the barber shop.

Evan Tuchinsky, a local journalist and entrepreneur, spoke on campus for the Society of Professional Journalists Wednesday. He said that the Associated Press is outdated and detrimental to the news industry as it stands now.

Conceptually, it makes a lot of sense. Is the Associated Press necessary when you can get online to the publications that are in areas all over the world already, or get to the reporters that are authoritative?

The Associated Press started so small newspapers could get world news without having a worldwide staff of reporters to get the news. With the rise of the Internet, there isn’t really a need anymore.

Looking into the issue further, I learned a great deal.

AP has been fighting with Google for years over the rights to use of their stories, content sharing is not as simple as it sounds, and there is a conscious effort being exerted by AP to keep itself alive in the Web and making money.

To be brief, it is a pivotal discussion when it comes to media and the Web. From the outside, it would seem that getting news from someone at the scene, a local who has been covering the area and who knows the history, would be a better source than an AP reporter sent in to cover a story in the same area. However, most people only get the AP version.

Perhaps it would be better if AP got out of the way and the local newspapers became the authority on local events. That way they just might make some money from Web hits, and the information would be more appropriate.

It would make local journalists feel more obligated to report accurately if they keep in mind a worldwide audience. Plus, it would perhaps get people into the communities more, instead of the outsider, broad perspective.

Idealistically, it sounds like a great idea to behead the behemoth, archaic Associate Press. Times have changed.

I was all for DOS back in the day. I got right on those Apple computers with the five-inch, inarguably “floppy” discs and the amber text-only screens in 1989, when I was in middle school. I used c-prompts and got really excited when the school’s computers were networked.

I felt like I was ahead of the game. But something happened between then and now. I blinked. Life happened.

Now, I look at the advancement of the World Wide Web and I am reeling. The Internet has come a long way in a short time.

Most recently, I started the process of learning very basic coding in html. It should be easy, I thought. After all, I knew DOS.

I was asking for a heavy dose of humility, and I got it.

Coding is hard. It’s not impossible, and I can do it. However, things have changed and I have a lot to learn.

The problem is I am a writer, not a programmer. I don’t do technical.

Now, I am back to basics, but it seems I am not alone in my floundering in a sea of wavelengths.

In the bigger picture, learning coding is akin to a beat reporter spending time in the pressroom learning how to put an issue to paper. It is great to know how the press operates, but operating machinery should be left to people who are trained to do it, just as a journalist should be left to write. When you combine the two roles, quality of the final product is diminished.

Perhaps this is why so many sophisticated publications have such shabby Web sites. It is a meddling of skills, none of which are excellent.

This week, I watched the new film “Where the Wild Things Are” with my sons. Through the experience, I was reminded about how the media has an effect.

Media affects children, as well as adults. As creators of media, we have to keep our audiences in mind. We are not free to say what we want without consequence.

“Where the Wild Things Are,” granted, is not journalism. However, it was a movie that taught children that biting your mother and running wild and screaming down the street are proper responses to feeling lonely and rejected. In fact, those children who do that should get hugs and chocolate cake from their mothers when they return.

 I am all for making a screwed up child feel accepted, but I don’t believe we should try to give the message that screwed up responses should be acceptable.

My point is that we, as journalists have to be very careful about how we present stories because there may be people reading or watching that will get the wrong message.

Every journalist should ask themselves, “Would I let my child read this?” If the answer is yes, the next question should be, “What will he/she come away with?”

I am not saying there isn’t adult-only content that needs to be printed, but we should keep in mind that what we have to say could change someone’s life or at the very least, get them thinking. That can be a good or a bad thing. It is a fine line.

Recently at The Orion, a former student called to try to get his name removed from a story that he appeared in while in college. The story was about genital piercings. Now, the young man wanted to get a job.

I wonder if we should have our subjects ask themselves the same questions we ask ourselves. I doubt the man would be happy to share the story with his children.

Bias in hindsight

Bias can bite you, if you are not careful.

Tom Gascoyne, a freelance writer, journalism instructor and former editor, spoke recently to the Society of Professional Journalists chapter on campus.

“There’s no such thing as unbiased and objective,” he said. “Just recognize your own bias and try to be fair and accurate.”

I agreed. However hard we try to maintain our place outside the stories we write, we are in them nonetheless. The trick is to be able to tell the story accurately in spite of ourselves.

The night before hearing Gascoyne, I looked at my articles in the archives of my junior college newspaper, The Lance.

What I didn’t expect to find, nor did I remember, was that I had crossed the line of objectivity and moved into bias and activism.

In fact, our entire staff had moved in that direction.

In my last issue, May 13, 2003, I was graduating, so I wrote about that.

Doris Cleckner worked with Veterans’ Affairs, so she wrote a weekly “story” praising and honoring U.S. troops.

I wrote about a Renaissance festival because my friend Tammy, also on staff, was taking me. Her photos went with the article. The largest photo showed her son and another friend.

Back at The Lance, I never thought it was unethical.

Now, I look at it with fresh eyes and new speculation. Journalism has to be accountable to higher standards because we are different, and we play a role in society.

Perhaps we could take into account more philosophical views of objectivity, such as arguments by Philip Meyer, professor of journalism as the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. (Note especially the two paragraphs starting with “Objectivity, as defined…” about a dozen paragraphs from the bottom.)

Whatever the answer, it is important to deliberate individually and collectively on the matter.

“We don’t have a license that can be taken away,” Gascoyne said. “All we have is our credibility.”

What makes us different?

In the process of reporting, we journalists write around uncertainties.

We are limited by what we’ve gleaned from a handful of interviews and sources.

We report what other people tell us is true. We do it with great deliberation and selection. We try to fact check and to choose reliable sources. We follow public records and take extensive notes.

Honestly, are we any different from the hundreds of contributors to Wikipedia or bloggers or anyone else who publishes on the Web?

That is where ethics play a part.

“If blogs are being read as news, making bloggers journalists, should they be required to abide by a code of ethics, similar to traditional journalists?” wrote Carolynne Burkholder in her article, “Citizen Journalism.”

Limits through set ethics are the only things that separate quality output from a waste of time.

 One journalist, Jonathan Dube, created CyberJournalist.net which has an adapted code of ethics, modeled after the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, for bloggers.

Perhaps, now we are getting somewhere.

What we do and what we say is important. How we write what we do and say is even more important.

If we are not going to get rid of careless competition on the Web taking over the once sacred realm of reporting and publishing, we can be more progressive and adopt a select set of ideals that make us different and make us better.