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  December 13, 2017

Baltimore Beat & TRNN: Who's Your Audience? (1/4)

Baltimore Beat editor-in-chief Lisa Snowden-McCray interviews Real News senior editor Paul Jay to discuss Baltimore's new alternative paper and its relationship with The Real News Network
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LISA SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: Welcome to the Real News Network. I'm Lisa Snowden-McCray, Editor-in-Chief of the Baltimore Beat, a brand new, independent weekly here in Baltimore City. I've been working in Baltimore as a journalist for about 14 years. I worked for Baltimore City Paper, an independent paper, which shut down in early November. I also worked for the Baltimore Sun before I took over at the Beat last month. The Beat exists to fulfill that space the city paper left behind as an alternative voice here in the city. Full disclosure, the Baltimore Beat has also been working very closely with the Real News Network. For now, we're working out of the Real News' downtown Baltimore offices and also running stories written by Real News reporters in the paper. I'm here in the studio with Paul Jay, CEO and Senior Editor of The Real News Network. We're going to talk a little bit about our partnership, about the state of journalism right now and what that means for Baltimore. Welcome, Paul.

PAUL JAY: Thank you.

SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: Okay, well, I want to start big and go in a little bit. I almost feel like you and I should be fighting a little bit. There's this tension that exists right now between print and video. I know back a few months ago, MTV News would hire like a bunch of very high profile, very smart and talented writers, let them all go because they wanted to pivot to video and a few other places have done that, too. Some of those places are actually pivoting back to print now. I want to talk a little bit about why you decided to go into video and how you've made that successful so far.

PAUL JAY: When we started The Real News, the first thing you really have to answer is who's the audience?

SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

PAUL JAY: There's already a lot of independent alternative news. I think we frame things a little bit differently than others do.


PAUL JAY: Well, let me do the first part, then I'll [crosstalk] ...


PAUL JAY: ... do the second part about how so, that's a good question, but most of it's in text. There's a stratum of the population that's educated, that's plugged in to culture. They're used to reading.

SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

PAUL JAY: It's a significant stratum, but I think most of the working-class, most ordinary people, of course they read, although one shouldn't forget in the United States, apparently a 30-35% of the population is functionally illiterate. Most people get their news through TV.

SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

PAUL JAY: Even if they're getting it online, the larger, bigger sources of news are the same people from television online, whether it's CNN's or others. Younger people are more online, more looking for alternative sources, but that's not the majority. When we started The Real News, we wanted to do it in video because the power of television is what needed to be challenged, the power of daily television news. The daily TV news is where everybody goes, even people who read. When big events break, people go to television to see live coverage and all the pundits are there, all the analyzers are there, and they start framing how you look at the story right in that moment. Our thesis was one, be in video because the majority of people want to watch news, not read it, and two, in the big breaking news moments, we want to compete with TV, which everybody goes to.

Now, we are also building out the tech side right now as a part of the relationship with Baltimore Beat. We've hired Baynard Woods, who worked at City Paper and was also helping with the relationship with the Beat. We do want to have more text because it's faster to read.

SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

PAUL JAY: We have transcripts with all our videos and something like 30-40%, I think, of our audience read the transcripts rather than watch the video just because it's faster. We do want to strengthen our tech side, but our most important mission is to get into working families, ordinary people who come home really tired at night, and start engaging them in watching our news. Now to get to your other question, because the way we frame it, I think, and I'm not saying we're the only ones that do it, but there's not very many that do it. We start with the proposition, which I don't think it's a proposition, I think it's the reality. We live in a society that's divided into classes.


PAUL JAY: You can't report on anything if you're really going to give any serious context without asking the question, for whom. It doesn't matter whether it's policing or whether it's school policy or whether it's climate policy or international foreign policy, you've got to say for whom and for whom is mostly to do with you've got elites, a tiny percentile, you know, 1% everyone talks about, but in truth, 10-15% of people in this country are doing pretty well ...

SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

PAUL JAY: ... and are rather happy with the status quo. It may even be more than that number. Then, you have everybody else. We always try to frame things in that way and then we also don't see ourselves as just reporters. We're not here just to report on what happened. We also think that part of our job is what do real solutions look like and we're trying to do more and more of that, that we don't want to just describe something that's wrong without talking about, well here's what a real effective solution looks like. Not only what a solution looks like within today's politics, like what's possible within this city hall or this state capital or Washington. What if you had a kind of popular people's takeover of the city, for example? What would that policy look like? In video, because primarily we think ordinary people will engage with it more.

SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: It's interesting, I know for us, we actually just had a staff meeting on Tuesday and one of our signs of success was that Brandon, our managing editor, was saying that he saw some copies of the Beat in the trash, like on the ground, because for us, it was very, very important for us to have a physical paper that you could hold in your hand. Not just be a website, which could be cheaper and easier to produce, but like that same working-class aim, which is that sometimes people don't have internet. Sometimes people don't have like a smartphone, like you and I have, like I pretty much use to live. People can get copies of the paper, you know, sitting at the bus stop, going in to get a sandwich somewhere, or sitting at the bar somewhere. We actually just had someone tweeted us a picture of somebody riding the bus reading a Beat. That's kind of like, the thing that I think excites me about this partnership.

The other thing is that it kind of feels like us working together is good because the Beat and I, we're an editorial staff of three. We literally can't cover some things in the city, so it feels very much like we're crafting this alternative, journalistic system almost. Like, when I logged on as editor, you were already on board, so I guess what made you want to sign on to kind of make this thing happen?

PAUL JAY: Well, working with a physical print paper is like the best of all worlds. To be able for us to have a strong online presence and video, but yeah, there is something about having the paper in your hand.

SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

PAUL JAY: There is something about having physical distribution. I know one thing that the Beat's doing, paying more attention to than I think the City Paper perhaps did ... The City Paper, for people who don't know, was owned by the Baltimore Sun. The boxes were kind of in this what we in Baltimore call the White L down the center of the city and then over into Fells Point. The Beat, as I understand it, is going to spend a lot more time through small stores ...


PAUL JAY: ... and otherwise getting into the areas where black working-class people live.

SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

PAUL JAY: That's great for us, too, because we want to be known in those areas. It was just, like I say, it was the best of all worlds to be able to partner with a print publication and continue what we're doing.


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