New Standard RIP

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This Friday, April 27, 2007, will see the last edition of The New Standard, a pioneering online reporting operation in the United States that tried to live its ideals through both its news, its collective employment set-up and its advert-free financial model. Sadly, it hasn’t worked out.

The staff, Jessica Azulay, Michelle Chen, Brian Dominick, Shreema Mehta
and Megan Tady, announce the news here. The bit I would pick out is this:

“… the five staffers who form the PeoplesNetWorks Collective – the nonhierarchical nonprofit that publishes TNS – have accepted that the news publication we envisioned cannot be achieved without a greater level of support. We do not believe we will be able to obtain that support in the foreseeable future, and as individuals, we have reached a point at which we are unable to sustain the long hours and stress that publishing TNS entails.”

I met Jessica and Brian (pictured above) when they lectured on the Z Media Institute alternative politics and journalism course in 2005. They were mines of information, humble, passionate – damn good basically. It’s a shame to see their project bite the dust. There will be a post mortem, and valuable lessons to be drawn for anyone interested in real journalism. They will re-emerge somewhere else, I have no doubt.

My own thought on the demise of TNS is that we didn’t do enough to support it and didn’t appreciate the boldness, novelty and importance of its efforts. My own, inadequate, journalism model for now is to do whatever it takes to provide my share of household inputs, and grab whatever spare time there is to report, blog and write talking about a revolution for free. Not great, but that’s all I have for now. That’s why I’m particularly sorry to see the TNS crowd shutting up shop.

Perhaps the reason I didn’t spend more time on the TNS site was that my take on alternative journalism is a bit different. In addition to the TNS efforts to provide an objective dissection of daily news, I am more inclined towards how we recalibrate news reporting to focus on the poor quality of our underlying political systems.

That would mean reporting that includes reference to the weakness of the underlying decision-making structures related to the story and presents what policies might result from using alternative structures. It would be hard work, and a challenge not to end up with very dull reports of use to no-one. The aim would be to de-power the voice of the few in favour of the powerless many (err, that’s us folks). Any report featuring politicians or policy would give equal if not more play to what ordinary people want, not just from opinion polls but also from ongoing participatory democracy sessions.

Sounds a bit wooly perhaps, I’ll work on it, but I hope you get the gist for now.

3 Responses to “New Standard RIP”

  1. Daniel Simpson Says:

    “Any report featuring politicians or policy would give equal if not more play to what ordinary people want, not just from opinion polls but also from ongoing participatory democracy sessions.”

    The key question from a planning point of view is how to decide which opinions to give play to and with what sort of weighting. The BBC formula adheres roughly to seats for the major parties in Parliament. Regardless of how unrepresentative this might be of anything, the challenge is to define what would be representative. And of what. And how. And, of course, why. But now I’m just resorting to lazy 6-Ws hackery…

  2. Brian Dominick Says:

    Thank you so much for the kind remarks, Patrick. As you noted, we’ll be writing a thorough assessment (or more than one) in early May to reflect on what we did right and wrong. For now, I just wanted to note that your last paragraphs resonated with me. I believe your general inclination about good journalism is very similar to our early aspirations for The NewStandard. Indeed, we always weighted strongly the words of people working on issues we covered from a grassroots perspective. In most cases, of course, even dissent is far from democratic, though. The most readily available sources for most any story are often, at best, just staffers at nonprofit groups — little if any democracy there. As for guaging larger public viewpoints, that is of course even harder.

    Anyway, that’s to say it’s a very noble objective, but also very difficult, as you noted. Without tremendous resources — like the kind commercial media outfits have but squander — we found it extremely difficult to do our work the way we would have most preferred. We had to settle for just being much better than our corporate counterparts, instead of being perfect. Which was often frustrating. We thought being much better would be good enough for bloggers and the like to take note and give us the boost we needed, but in the end, it was not.

  3. Daniel Simpson Says:

    Without tremendous resources — like the kind commercial media outfits have but squander — we found it extremely difficult to do our work the way we would have most preferred. We had to settle for just being much better than our corporate counterparts, instead of being perfect. Which was often frustrating. We thought being much better would be good enough for bloggers and the like to take note and give us the boost we needed, but in the end, it was not.

    How disappointing. I admire the work you’ve done with TNS, Brian – in particular your openness about editorial policy and your contributors’ handbook are valuable sources of inspiration for other independent media producers.

    It’s difficult to see how to crack the cash conundrum unless people are prepared to subscribe. As one who didn’t, my commiserations may seem like crocodile tears, but I’m saddened by the fate of The NewStandard. I look forward to reading your assessments of what might have been done differently and hope the lessons can translate into ways of sustaining alternative business models.

    Best wishes for whatever you do next and more power to your work.

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