A new deal with news readers

The Web enables a level of media interactivity never before available to the common man or woman. Are you taking advantage of it?

Among the many wonderful attributes of the Web, the one that may have the greatest ability to change the world of the news media is the possibility it creates for easier two-way communication.

The Web has made enormous changes to the media landscape. The ability for all kinds of news organizations to stream audio and video has broken down old distinctions between print, audio, and video media. And the ease the Web creates for people to read news from a variety of sources means users can reach beyond their geographic boundaries for information.

But the potential for interaction between news organizations and the public is arguably the biggest because it holds the possibility of democratizing the media. In theory, it gives news organizations hundreds, thousands, or millions of citizen sentries – watchdogs keeping an eye out for news and events that people try to hide, or perhaps an army of users telling the media through mass e-mails there are issues that deserve greater focus.

Indeed, if you are a news junkie, focused not only on current events but also on how the media do their jobs, there has never been a better time to be alive. You, as a regular Joe or Jane, can do something that was once just the privilege of the wealthy and connected, hold a conversation – of sorts – with news decisionmakers.

Yes, in the past you could always send a letter or call, but you didn't have the kind of direct access you have now – and news organizations weren't as ready to listen. The Web's rise, traditional media's shrinking audience, and some major gaffes have made big outlets more sensitive to the thoughts of their audience.

With that increased power, however, comes some increased responsibility as well.

It's no longer enough for you to sigh in hopeless befuddlement as the newspaper you read or the TV station you watch misses or misrepresents the story. You're obligated to at least try to impress upon journalists what they are missing. That has to be part of the new news bargain.

The mainstream media has been playing catch-up on this whole interaction thing. They want to hear what you have to say but they are trying to figure out exactly how to do it. Comment spaces at the end of stories? E-mail information for writers or editors? Editable "wiki" pages? Blogs? All those things?

And sometimes, try as they might, they don't get what they want.

I know firsthand. When the focus of this column shifted to the news media, I had hoped that once every few weeks I would write on a topic suggested by readers. After all, we know what newspaper people think about media news. They spend most of their time scanning the headlines to determine if they will have a job in a few years.

I wanted some fresh perspectives from you all. What concerns you about the media? What do you like? What do you just not understand? What would you like illuminated?

That's not to say I haven't gotten e-mails from any of you. I have heard from many, responded to some, and gotten ideas from a few.

Many of the responses I received, though, were agreeing with or taking issue with what I wrote. That's fine and I expect those e-mails to keep coming. I was just hoping for your thoughts on the media as well.

The biggest batch of responses I have received so far came from a column I wrote on the coverage surrounding presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama and what might lie ahead for his relationship with the media. Some of you thought I hated him, and some thought I was offering him cover. For the record, I was trying to do neither.

But what is past is past. Consider this a renewed request for your thoughts on the media. Enough has changed even in the past six months that your thoughts might have changed slightly or done a complete 180.

Maybe you've decided there simply isn't much reason to read or tune in anymore. If so, I'd like to hear about that as well – but more important, I'd like to hear why.

If the great potential of the new media world is the potential for conversation between audience and author, you have an important role to play.

For my part, I promise to diligently read your e-mails and acknowledge your ideas when I write columns based on them. Fair enough?

Now, let me go check my in-box.

Dante Chinni, a senior associate at the Project for Excellence in Journalism, writes a twice-monthly column on media issues.

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