While real-world journalism struggles for new legitimacy and relevance, virtual world journalism is flourishing. I’m talking about real reporting, written by real reporters covering real stories and issues. After all, online communities are no less significant than the “real” ones in which we live and work, and the need for news coverage is no less vital online, either.
At the head of the virtual journalism class is Katt Kongo, publisher of the Metaverse Messenger newspaper in Second Life. Kongo is a journalist with years of “real life” experience who has won awards for her reporting and photography. Now she is reinventing journalism in Second Life (SL), both with the Messenger and by teaching basic journalism skills to interested SL residents.
The following interview is revealing for those who are unfamiliar with SecondLife, and encouraging for those who believe that journalism’s best days still lie ahead.
BTF: When did you start publishing the Metaverse Messenger and why?
KK: “I started publishing the M2 in August of 2005. I decided to start the paper because I wanted to do something in SL to make a little bit of money. It was important to me to be self-sustaining in SL and not take money from my family to purchase L$ (Linden Dollars, SL’s in-world currency) with. I also wanted to do something I love. So I started thinking about what I love doing most. The answer to that was newspaper work.”
KK: “I look for stories that would educate and inform readers, and even occasionally entertain them, like
the recent article on the group of residents whose religion dictates the worship of (SL founder) Philip Linden. Generally speaking, if an article would interest me, it would also interest the M2 readership.”
BTF: How much news do you find yourselves and how much is sent in by residents?
KK: “I would say 80% of the articles in the M2 are generated by staff members, with readers sending in or informing us of the remaining percentage.”
BTF: Second Life is a visual, interactive medium. So why start a newspaper, which is "print?" Are there plans for more visual, audio or video journalism in the future?
KK: “Our motto is ‘A real newspaper for a virtual world,’ so we strive to be as like a meatworld (real world) newspaper as possible. A print format, even though it’s electronic, is part of that. And print is here to stay. People just need to find new ways to use it. Yes, we do have plans to add other news formats.”
BTF: Is journalism in SL all "citizen" journalism, it is professional journalism, or a mix of both?
KK: “I’m a journalist, with a degree and many years of experience. There are a few staff members with some journalism experience. The majority, however, are simply talented writers.
“I just opened a center to give my staff members, and any interested SL residents, a basic education in journalism, basically what would amount to an Associates’ Degree. I also hope to pull in universities to teach distance courses on journalism.”
BTF: Can you have a community, even a virtual one, without a newspaper? How does a newspaper help residents "function" better than simply connecting with each other, having a calendar of events and other pure "informational tools" — in other words, why do you need journalism in SL?
KK: “I feel that there are certain aspects needed for a community to exist, and one such aspect is a way to spread news, whether it’s a newspaper or word of mouth. The larger a community grows, the more efficient its means of sharing news should be. A newspaper helps residents function by providing a tool which they can then use to make decisions with — where to buy the best clothing, what to do on a Friday night, how to use new SL features, and more.”
BTF: Are your ads supporting the newspaper, or is it still a "labor of love?"
KK: “The ads support the newspaper with its current budget. However, I would like to expand the budget by paying staff members better, and adding full time staff to the M2 roster.”
BTF: What should real world journalists and public relations professionals learn from what you are doing in SL? Are there any lessons or experiences you’ve had that resonate for communications in the real world? Or to put it another way, can you apply SL journalism skills to get a job at a real-world newspaper?
KK: “Think outside the box. Learn the rules of journalism, but know there may be a time when you have to make up new ones. A new world, whether it’s a virtual one or a meatworld existence, will require new innovations in journalism.
“Every experience has held a lesson for me. One specific example: when you give people a chance, sometimes you will be disappointed. But many times, people will take the opportunity you give them and create a marvelous thing. Don’t be afraid to hand out chances.
“I think the majority of my staff writers could easily get a job working for a ‘real life’ publication. All of them have strong interview skills, and have developed good newspaper writing skills. As for myself, I might eventually start publishing a small town newspaper. After publishing a paper for a virtual world, reality would be a snap.”
Visit the Metaverse Messenger in Second Life at Sido 169/183/26.