Thinking About a New Model

I’ve spent more than four years on the online side of the arts-and-entertainment news team at The Plain Dealer, which seems more like 28 in Internet years, given the speed with which the Web changes and evolves these days. But I still struggle every day to shake the old gatekeeper model that was drilled into many print, radio and television journalists of my generation. The idea that we are the sole guardians of the news is certainly laughable when an infinite universe of information can now be sought, collected and organized in a matter of seconds with a device you can hold in the palm of your hand. But my first instinct is still to talk AT our readership rather than with it, to push stories rather than invite conversation.

I developed the Plain Dealer/ Newspapers’ Community Theater website as an exercise in community engagement — a way for a legacy media company with a great tradition of arts coverage to try a different, hyper-local online model. It seemed like a simple proposition to me: Build a site, funnel our content into it and ask the theaters to feed it as well. But I really didn’t understand what engagement meant — or the complexities in effectively implementing the concept — until we began to explore the issue in the Engine 29 lab.

For me, the great lesson of the week is to stop thinking of content as a commodity to be peddled but rather as a meal to be shared. The tools to do the cooking — smart Web design, new storytelling techniques, the creative use of social media and audience engagement initiatives — are really just meant to get everyone at the same table.

I’m thrilled and encouraged by the two re-imagined websites you see here — and with all of the other amazing and innovative Engine29 projects. There’s a lot of grief in journalism today because of losses we have experienced in legacy media, particularly in coverage of the arts. But it’s difficult to stay sad and despairing in midst of such a blast of creativity.