From mainstream to multimedia, Ray Hanania works “both sides of the wall”
Growing up on the Southside of Chicago prepared journalist Ray Hanania to wear many labels. His schoolyard detractors wouldn’t take “I’m American” for an answer. So, Hanania sought out his father’s advice.
“Well, geesh, you know, don’t tell them your Palestinian. Tell ‘em you’re Syrian or Lebanese,” said his father. Imagine a time when it was okay to be Syrian or Lebanese, says Hanania.
Hanania returned to school, fearful of being beat up by taunting classmates, and offered the bullies this answer:
“Well, my dad said I’m cereal. But I think my mother is lesbian. I don’t know.”
Closing out this year’s Making Media Connections 2010, Hanania admitted he’s technically not a journalist, but he is “the face of the future.” As an award-winning freelance journalist who writes for 18 blogs, pens a column for several Arab news outlets, hosts a radio show, does comedy, and serves as the spokesperson for Cicero, Hanania said he has no desire to go back to working in mainstream media.
“I work on both sides of the wall. I haven’t crossed to the dark side because I still have principles of journalism, fairness and accuracy,” said Hanania. “But I would call it a gray side. It isn’t an easy thing to do but it’s doable.”
Who is a journalist as reporters and traditional organizations continue to move toward utilizing online and social media tools to deliver the news? As Making Media Connections wound down, the Community Media Workshop, in partnership with the Chicago Community Trust’s Community News Matters program, gave attendees an opportunity to listen to current Chicago media trend makers as they weighed in during round table discussions about the role of today’s journalists.
The Internet as the “great equalizer
Keeping attendees in stitches with his humorous commentary about being a Southside Arab married to a Jew and his past life as a political reporter for the Sun-Times, Hanania considers the numerous blogs and seven websites he manages “fisher’s nets.” Each has a specific niche focus that draws in readers that overlap into everything he does.
His heavy presence on the Internet has taught him it’s “the great equalizer” and a vehicle for ethnic and community news.
“The Internet gives us an opportunity to do something. And the Internet is going to help you as an ethnic community, as a newspaper or a community paper,” he said.
While the industry has changed how journalists and news agencies create news, the bottom line for Hanania is good writing, identifying a good story and being fair.
“I’m a great writer and maybe the big papers and media don’t want to hire me, I don’t care,” he said. “You need to write good stories…you need a good story. That’s where the key is.”
Ray Hanania’s Keynote Speech – Part 1
Ray Hanania’s Keynote Speech – Part 2
Geotagging, crowdsourcing and WordPress: Platform/Technology panel.
Choosing platforms that allow participation and engagement with your organization’s content will impact the type of conversation you have with your audience.
“I think it just depends on what kind of product you want, what kind of outcome you want to have,” said Brad Flora of Windy Citizen. The abundance of technology allows nonprofits to get their stories to audiences cheaply. For nonprofits, the choice of which platform to use depends on what makes the most sense for the organization’s audience and how those people access the content being created.
Strategically using technology to engage an audience can produce positive results in the conversation nonprofits are having online. Using crowd-sourcing technology, as employed by Windy Citizen, allows audiences to be “a part of the conversation,” said panelist Justin Kaufmann of Chicago Public Media.
While technology has made it cheaper to create content for a website, who creates that content and how it’s created is still important.
ChicagoNow engages over 300 anonymous voices to create content for their blogs. “We really believe that this is the future of the media,” said Tracy Schmidt. Creating a user-friendly platform for bloggers to write about subjects they are passionate about has worked well for ChicagoNow.
The panel, moderated by Dan Sinker of Columbia College, included Flora from Windy Citizen, Ernie Sanders from Chicago Digital Cities, and Kaufman of Chicago Public Radio.
At the end of the day, the question remains: what will draw audiences to your site? Sanders asked panelists how an organization’s or an individual’s reputation plays a role in attracting and growing readership. “It’s really a fine line,” said Sanders when it comes to using known and unknown voices to create content.
Panelists felt that as technology grows, current news sources and outlets will become redundant because audiences will eventually find what they want online. But Sanders worried underserved communities could be excluded from accessing important information due to lack of technology in the digital age.
Utilizing a variety of platforms makes it possible for larger and smaller organizations to connect with their audiences. Yet, it boils down to giving your audience content they want to consume, said Flora.
An independent voice: The Locals/Communities panel
Communities are finding solutions for the lack of local coverage by creating hyper-local news sites. Collaboration, funding and content are focus points for these organizations, which are using new avenues to produce content for local audiences.
“I think it’s important that neighborhoods…have an independent voice,” said Lorraine Swanson of Lake Effect News. “One that is objective and tells both sides of the story.” Swanson covers the North side of Chicago and feels communities do not benefit from blog saturation, rather from journalists who provide facts and allow readers to come to their own conclusions.
Creating an independent voice for communities will come down to collaboration between hyper-local sites and established community newspapers. Columbia College’s Suzanne McBride of AustinTalks.org says reaching out to a main competitor has given her site an opportunity to cover meatier issues. “Competition isn’t really in my vocabulary anymore,” said McBride.
How hyper-local sites will be funded is an issue for many of the panelists. While grants provide support, many panelists believe it’s important to pay their reporters for their work.
Also, drawing audiences to the sites takes incentive and persistence, said Glenn Reedus of South Suburban News. SEO, guerilla marketing, emailing stories to sources to be forwarded are methods panelists use to drive traffic to their sites.
But a challenge for some hyper-local sites is whether journalistic principals are being applied. McBride said caution should be taken when discussing who is and isn’t a journalist.
The panel, moderated by Antonio Olivo of the Chicago Tribune, included Swanson from Lake Effect News, McBride from Austin Talks, and Reedus of South Suburban Publishing.
Money can be made, but how?: The Business
What will sustain journalistic models online? The notion of journalists as entrepreneurs must be a part of the conversation about how the media landscape is transforming. Now, panelists said, journalists will have to learn a business side to the industry in order to provide content that reaches audience’s needs, which could include learning Web 2.0.
The panel, moderated by Toure Mohammed of Beansoup Times, included Steve Rhodes from Beachwood Reporter, Rich Gordon of Northwestern University, Dave Greising of Chicago News Cooperation, and Sherry Skalko of Online News Association.
From asking friends to foundations, panelists had quite a few examples of business models that provide money to their sites, but it was unclear which models were drawing in revenue. One of the things online news outlets have to do is figure out how the old rules apply in this new world, said David Greising of Chicago News Cooperation.
Merging this innovation with funding models isn’t clear. But the idea that there are no business models that work “is bunk” said Steve Rhodes of Beachwood Reporter. He pointed to Capital Fax, Politico and Gawker as examples of websites providing content,that also pull in revenue.
All agreed that content-based models can bring in revenue and provide an opportunity to create other sources for funding.
Speaking to the masses: Influential Voices.
Are bloggers journalists? How are their voices providing content that audiences can use? Panelists Veronica Arreola of Viva La Feminista, Andrew Huff of GapersBlock, Charles Mombo of Chocolate City, and Teresa Puente of Chicanisima sat down with former Chicago Tribune reporter Steve Franklin, now with the Workshop, to discuss their influence with audiences.
“I’m not a journalist. I defy all of the rules sometimes,” said panelist Charles Mombo of Chocolate City. Mombo said he allows readers to give him their thoughts on his writings to understand what content is valuable to them. “So the article is for the reader to school me, so to speak.”
Gaper’s Block tries to employ AP styles and other journalist tenants, but Andrew Huff believes that readers are “savvy enough to know the difference” when they read the mix of opinion and news. Huff said as an alterative weekly they are trying to bridge a gap online by taking a causal tone.
Teresa Puente of Chicanisima and Veronic Arreola of Viva La Feminista noted the dearth of Latino voices and opinion in mainstream media. Both pointed out that blogging allows for advocacy journalism and bridge building by discussing racial issues that may be overlooked in the mainstream media conversation. Arreola said she sees her role as “filling in a gap” and correcting misconceptions about Latinos.
But what is popular when it comes to blog content? Controversy, applying storytelling skills, connecting your topics with audiences with similar passions, and using search engine optimization are what panelists have seen driving traffic to their pages.
Huff found there was a difference in what’s popular and what’s influential among bloggers.
Panelists rounded out their discussion by agreeing that strong writing supported by a passion for the topic, journalistic principles online, and strategic SEO techniques provide an opportunity to reach broader audiences.