Debate this: Is there enough market demand to support quality journalism

In my last post I discussed the first session of the Kiev conference I attended last week. Today I will look at the second session, which was organized as a debate.

First off, let me say that debates are a good format that conference organizers in the U.S. should consider. This is the second time I’ve participated in a debate at a journalism conference – both in Europe. This debate was described as Oxford-style with two speakers on each side of the question: Is there enough market demand to support quality journalism?. A moderator asked questions and kept time. Each speaker had a 5-minute opening argument but then was limited to one-minute responses to questions from the moderator and audience so the session kept moving briskly.

Briggs in Kiev

Briggs delivering his opening statement in the debate session. Click the image to see more scenes from the conference.

Before the debate, everyone in the audience placed a red or blue chip in a bowl to vote for their response to the debate question. The audience did that again after the debate and the winning team would be the one that gained more votes between the before and after votes.

My team lost (and I’m still bitter). But it was a great format and one that I think could be used for many interesting “future of news” questions at conferences like ONA, ISOJ, SPJ or SXSW.

I’m convinced that a misconception of the term “market demand” in the debate question lost the debate for my team. We saw the “market” as commercial and argued that many business models are emerging to support quality journalism. The other team argued saw the “market” as audience and argued that too few people want the tough, deep, investigative journalism because “it is too hard.”

Regardless the outcome, I enjoyed the session and could sense that the audience did as well. Which is no small feat given that there were two of us speaking English and three speaking Russian and the whole thing was being simultaneously translated in both languages (plus Ukrainian).

Think of the interesting questions that could be used in debates at conferences in the U.S.:

  • Is social media journalism? (the topic Mandy Jenkins and I discussed at SXSW this year)
  • Will paywalls save the U.S. newspaper industry?
  • Is being first in breaking news worth the risk of being wrong?
  • And … Is there enough market demand for quality journalism? (I want another shot at that one)

Take note, conference organizers. We all know the panel discussion format is beyond tired and powerpoint presentations are akin to visiting the dentist. Consider adding a debate to your next conference agenda and spice things up with a little intellectual competition.

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