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Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.


Jeffrey Dvorkin

Sunday, May 11, 2008

"What's the REAL News?"

After eleven years in Washington, DC, I am now in Toronto. The circumstances of the move are straight-forward and typical for our times: it's because of a job. I am now the executive director of journalism for a two year old, online news service called The Real News Network.

Although based in Toronto, The Real News Network is international in scope and through the election, American in focus. It is about to relocate its journalistic headquarters to Washington DC and to expand its bureaus in New York, Los Angeles and London.

Its aim is to report the stories that often do not get on the mainstream media. The staff is multi-cultural, multi-national, and incredibly diverse. I have never worked in an organization that is as diverse as this, including NPR.

Even the name "The Real News" has an interesting story behind it. A few years ago, the founder of TRN, Paul Jay was in a taxi in Washington DC. The cabbie asked what he does. Paul said that he is starting up a news service that will give more context, and more background than any other news organization.

"Oh," said the driver. "You mean the REAL news."

TRN has only been online since September. But since then, it has grown rapidly. The number of online visitors grows at a rate of around 1100% a MONTH! When TRN stories are posted on Youtube, the hit can range from 1.6 million to 2 million unique visitors.

Why is TRN so successful? I think the answer is found in a letter I received when I was ombudsman at NPR. A listener wrote and asked why doesn't NPR or any of the other media provide "news with an edge?" When I wrote about this listener's query, I received hundreds of responses. All agreed that news organizations seem fearful of drawing conclusions based on their own reporting. Fear of being seen as "biased" is so pervasive, that journalism seems to almost always assume a defensive crouch.

As a result, most "respectable" media shy away from context and conclusion.

That leaves the opinion-mongers free range to opine first and report later (if ever). But at the same time I sense that there appears to be "opinion fatigue" in the audience. "Just give us the facts first and conclusions second."

This is where TRN comes in and why I think it has such amazing potential to provide that missing context. My role is as Executive Director of Journalism to make sure that we have the facts before we can draw conclusions. But TRN is not and should be "conclusion averse."

TRN is still a work in progress. Sometimes TRN may sound overly polemical. It shouldn't. The financing is still shaky since TRN refuses to take corporate or government funding. Viewers are subscribing but more money needs to be found to keep it going.

I think it's a noble experiment with enormous potential. I am delighted to be here, working in online journalism and moving daily news into a range of subjects that rarely get addressed anywhere else.

I hope you'll let me know your thoughts about The Real News Network.

2 comments:

  1. I've been hoping for more journalism outlets like this (news AND opinions based on the facts) for a while now.

    Personal question, Jeffrey: if TRN's moving its operations to DC, why did you move to Toronto?

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  2. Personal as well as professional. My wife is a psychotherapist and has an offer in Toronto. I dragged her to DC; it seems only fair that she repay the favor. Also I tend to do a fair bit of shuttling back and forth. We'll see how it all works out. Modern times, eh?

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