My current projects
Currently program director and instructor at the Digital News Test Kitchen at the University of Colorado Boulder. Also occasional speaking, digital-media consulting and advising for miscellaneous clients. Now focusing on: future of news technology & techniques, future of investigative journalism, innovative digital storytelling tools, and news business models.
My poor blog gets neglected, but fortunately there’s the monthly Carnival of Journalism thought-fest, which I try to participate in every month, if possible. At least the Carnival prevents me from completely ignoring my blog!
This month’s Carnival prompt is a fascinating one. Put forth by University of Southern California professor Andrew Lih and his students, the provocative question is: “What is your most dangerous idea for journalism?”
Here’s my answer in a video (at the urging of Lih, to get Carnival folks out of their text habit, I suppose):
In the video I mentioned a couple companies. Here are links to their websites:
It’s that time of month again: Carnival of Journalism! And this month’s question (a tough one, by Greg Linch) is: “What’s the best way, or ways, to measure journalism and how?” … To define it a little better, the real question is: How do we best measure the impact of journalism.
OK, it’s going to take someone smarter than me to give a good direct answer to that. I’m sure one or more of my fellow Carnival-goers will rise to the challenge.
When I look at the question, I can’t help but get sidetracked into thinking how social media (i.e., “the crowd” utilizing digital social tools like Twitter, Facebook, and Change.org, among others, to amplify their voices) in a growing number of cases is having more impact than the traditional news media can achieve themselves — or is driving the mainstream news media to pay attention to stories that their editors fail to recognize as important.
It’s the public leveraging social media that keeps taking hold of stories where professional journalists either misjudge the importance or just miss because of lack of resources, and then amplify those stories to the point where mainstream news organizations have no choice but to pump up their coverage (and thus look “out to lunch” to those already aware of the story from the social-media uproar). [...article continues below the video]
Twitter’s Twitter Stories website features stories of tweets that made an impact, such as this tale of a son’s tweet that saved his mother’s Portland bookstore from going out of business. In the past, perhaps a newspaper reporter’s story on the store’s plight would have generated the community support to achieve the same result.
The way I see it, traditional news organizations are seeing their “gatekeeper” roles usurped increasingly more often by the public’s use of social media. In other words, when editors do a lousy job of gatekeeping and keep important stories locked behind the gate, the public now has the power to become the gatekeepers and unlock an overlooked story. It’s not that news media don’t have the power to have an impact; it’s that now an outraged public can use social-media tools to have an impact, sometimes bypassing the news media and sometimes manipulating news organizations to join the fight.
Here are just a few recent examples:
The Trayvon Martin killing in Florida. It took several weeks for news organizations to pay due attention to this racially charged incident of a neighborhood watch volunteer shooting an unarmed black teenager; initial news reports treated it as a routine crime story. The story truly picked up thanks to a petition on Change.org, which as I write this has gathered 1.75 million signatures asking for prosecution of Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, who was not arrested. At Poynter.org, Kelly McBride has a good write-up about the Martin case and how social media drove the news media coverage to eventually turn it into a national story: “Trayvon Martin story reveals new tools of media power, justice.”
The Susan B. Komen Foundation dropping Planned Parenthood funding. Komen, the breast-cancer charity famous for its “Komen Walks for the Cure,” succumbed to right-wing pressure to stop giving funds to Planned Parenthood for breast screenings. This action created a huge firestorm on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and other social-media sites. Komen officials tried to ride out the controversy, but the furor online (including online petitions and the online threats of many women who had been Komen supporters to stop giving to the foundation) forced them to overturn their decision. By the time mainstream news media were paying serious attention to the Komen story, the social-media-led furor already had made an impact; news reports merely added to the already intense pressure on the organization to back down.
The UC-Davis pepper-spray incident. Who can forget the university police officer pepper-spraying a line of peaceful students sitting in a line on the ground during an Occupy protest on the Davis, California, campus? I first noticed this on Twitter and began following the story there and on Facebook. I remember early on looking for coverage by mainstream news organizations, but finding very little. It took a couple days, as I recall, for this outrageous act by a law-enforcement officer to hit its stride in the traditional news media. By then, calls for the firing of the officer and the removal of UC-Davis’ chancellor were already at fever pitch across social-media channels.
This is not to suggest that news media have been neutered by social media’s power. News organizations that still have a strong investigative-journalism mission and the resources to conduct this kind of reporting can have an impact and effect change on their own. Propublica offers a great example: The non-profit news organization’s major investigation into the oil and gas industry’s practice of “fracking” and the environmental threat posed to groundwater supplies has been a four-year effort, with tangible impact.
Of course, the LA Times’ Bell-corruption investigation points to the reason that journalism has less impact today than a few years ago, before thousands of journalists across the U.S. took buyouts or were laid off. Municipal officials’ corruption in Bell had been going on for years, but a weakened press and no strong local news organizations allowed it to continue uncovered for a good long time.
To circle back to Greg Linch’s question, we need to figure out how to measure the impact of journalism, and track how it fares in the years ahead. Measurement will be how we know that we’ve climbed out of the hole left by the departure of so many professional journalists from traditional news organizations.
But for a final word, let’s get back to social media. I think it’s fair to say that social media will continue to grow in impact, as citizens spot outrageous things (say, Rush Limbaugh calling a college student advocating for birth control to be covered by all health insurance a “slut” and “prostitute”) and use the new tools at their disposal to accomplish goals (which occurred in the Limbaugh episode when well over 100 advertisers dropped the right-wing commentator’s radio show).
For news organizations to have impact (and not just report the news), they’ll need to get better at leveraging social media and incorporating it into the news process. For instance, if more newsrooms had editors who monitored social media sites routinely and deeply, they wouldn’t get blind-sided by a social-media firestorm because they’d know about it already. If those editors also curated the social-media chatter around breaking news events and exploding issues, they’d be part of the process instead of laggards catching up when it becomes obvious that they need to start paying attention to a story.
Social media and traditional news media both have the capacity to impact an issue and force change. At this point in time, I’d have to say that social media is gaining the edge. But news organizations have the ability to make an impact more often, as they’ve done in the past. Will they?
I’d been wanting to play host to a Carnival, and got my wish for February, thanks to Carnival overseer David Cohn. Here’s the question:
“What emerging technology or digital trend do you think will have a significant impact on journalism in the year or two ahead? And how do you see it playing out in terms of application by journalists, and impact?”
I’ll probably open myself up to charges of being “ageist,” but here goes…
Working at a university journalism program (University of Colorado Boulder), I’ve come to the conclusion that the next generation of journalists will be better capitalists than older journalists. Because what I’m seeing on this campus, and I’m sure it’s similar at other university journalism programs, is a growing number of students who are interested in business-model innovation for news. No, certainly not a majority, but enough to feel some optimism.
More new journalism graduates will want to build new news businesses, because they’ve grown up to see lone bloggers starting on a shoestring build sizable media enterprises
That’s logical, since many journalism students (but not all, in my experience!) recognize that the old news institutions that try to cling to their old business models are crumbling, and they understand that to forge a career in journalism they will need to come up with new ways for news entities to be profitable, or at least sustainable — whether they go to work for an existing news organization or create a new digital news enterprise from scratch using today’s and tomorrow’s inexpensive or free digital publishing tools.
At the Digital News Test Kitchen, I’m working with two graduate students this semester who have business-model projects and research under way: one focusing on collegiate news media, the other on niche (music/entertainment) news media. One Journalism master’s student just asked me for a recommendation letter to support her application to CU’s MBA program, so she can work on dual master’s degrees while she’s here in Boulder. (That’s fantastic; I only wish that another 10 students would announce similar intentions.) A journalism student and Test Kitchen researcher who received his master’s degree in December now works for a national non-profit news service based in Boulder, serving as a digital-media and business-model strategist.
At many journalism schools and departments that lack that kind of commitment and devotion of resources, entrepreneurial journalism courses at least have been added. That’s the case at CU-Boulder, with a course called “Adventures in Entrepreneurial Journalism,” which has been co-taught by faculty from Journalism and the Business School’s Deming Center for Entrepreneurship.
I have to believe that today’s crop of journalism graduates will embark into the world of news (those that choose to work in journalism) devoid of the attitudes that were instilled in my generation of journalism graduates: that editorial and the business sides of news should be separated by a wall, lest the latter contaminate the ethics of the former. I think that more new graduates will want to build new journalism businesses, because they’ve grown up to see lone bloggers starting on a shoestring build sizable media enterprises (TalkingPointsMemo, PaidContent, the Drudge Report, etc.). And they’ve been exposed to the notions that entrepreneurship and journalism now do mix; you don’t have to start with a big pile of money to start a media enterprise; and it is ethically possible to seek both truth and cash.
Can older journalists who’ve crossed from print and broadcast into digital become successful capitalists? Of course there are the exceptions, but I’m less optimistic about my age peers than about the students I encounter daily. For every Nick Denton (a British former newspaper journalist who built the Gawker empire and is every bit the successful capitalist) there are probably a hundred former old-media journalists scraping by with their own news websites covering their communities and still doing the work they love, but not having much of a chance that their small media businesses will grow beyond small.
That’s not to denigrate smaller online news entities that have emerged and are filling the holes left by the many layoffs of journalists from old-media organizations. We might call those local news websites (the ones that are for-profit) capitalism with a small “c”; they can serve their communities well, create some but not large numbers of new jobs for journalists, and give their founders a non-extravagant earnings level.
But my suspicion and my prediction is that it will be the next generation that will include journalism entrepreneurs who, for the lucky ones, will create journalism-based enterprises that grow to be represent Capitalism, with a capital “C.”
Next month’s Carnival: Hosted by me, Digital News Test Kitchen
I’ve been wanting to host a Carnival of Journalism, and head organizer David Cohn has agreed to let me do it for February 2012. So watch for the announcement soon of next month’s question, hosted by the Digital News Test Kitchen at CU-Boulder and me.
I missed the last couple Carnivals of Journalism, but it’s time for me to get back into the groove. This month there is a question each for journalists and for technologists. My question is:
If you are a journalist, what would be the best present from programmers and developers that Santa Claus could leave under your Christmas tree?
I’ll overlook the pro-Christian slant (hey, what about under the FSM tree?!) and play the game.
What I’d like to receive is a written contract from some developers and technologist friends committing to spending a year of their time working on projects that are purely related to the betterment (or perhaps resurrection is a better word) of journalism and informing communities, utilizing the latest in technology developments and know-how.
Not to be too restrictive, they can work with me, my colleagues and students in the Journalism program at CU-Boulder, and/or journalists of all kinds in a variety of areas: New crowd-funding systems for news. … New forms of and platforms for crowd-sourcing. … New forms of storytelling that better engage news consumers, and that support making money from readers or users. … New algorithms to identify quality and credibility in news content, and filter out the best stuff (not just the most popular). … New systems to not only entice online and mobile users to pay for news and/or news-related services, but also make it easy and frictionless to make payments. (Could you build a Spotify for news, please?) … New algorithms to better mine the social-media stream (or more accurately, raging torrent of a river) for news which can be personalized to individual readers’ locations and/or interests. … Well, I could go on and on, but I’ll spare you.
The point is, developers, programmers, and technologists are in high demand. On my campus, our Computer Science Department is hammered with requests for partnerships and collaborations not just from Journalism, but from all manner of disciplines. If I could get a half dozen CS students to work with the Digital News Test Kitchen for a year, I’d be in heaven.
Out in the “real world,” technologists seem to have better things to do than concentrate on altruistic technology projects that serve to better inform communities or help clueless news executives adapt to the digital age. Where’s the potential big payout in that, after all? The promise of big money is everywhere except in the news industry, it would seem. Venture capitalists don’t want to invest in news ventures, for the most part, so why should individuals with in-high-demand technology skills work within a field where money is more likely to come from philanthropists and foundations than VCs?
Yet I know that there are some technologists who “get it” — who understand that journalism is in crisis; that the deterioration in quality journalism is immensely corrosive of our democracy; and that solutions for improving the sorry state of today’s journalism will require the expertise and effort of technologists working with journalists. I meet some such people at our local Hack/Hackers Colorado meetings. I read about them being part of the Knight Mozilla News Technology Partnership.
There just aren’t enough of them to go around. Certainly there aren’t enough technologists willing to pitch in their expertise to help journalists figure out how to get out of the mess we’re in.
So I’d like Santa, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or whoever puts stuff under my holiday tree to find a bunch of talented technologists looking for a challenge like leveraging emerging technology to reinvent a floundering industry which just happens to be vital to the future functioning of our democracy. Maybe they can consider it akin to serving in the Peace Corps for a year; they’ll do something important and good for society, before returning to the work where the money is.
This month’s “Carnival of Journalism” asked the question: “What does Google+ mean for journalists, today and tomorrow?” Of course, I don’t have all the answers; I’m not sure yet that I have one really good answer. Google+, Google’s first serious threat to Facebook in the social-media space, is so new that we’re all grappling with how to best leverage it.
(I have to laugh when I visit the Google+ Welcome page, which still mentions that the service is in “Field Trial” mode. With 25 million users for Google+, and still growing quickly, few companies would continue to call this a field trial — but Google is no ordinary company.)
Since plenty has been written about how journalists are discovering uses for Google+, I’ll pass on retrodding that ground. Here’s my alternate message:
If you’re a journalist, you SHOULD be using Google+.
If you’re a journalism professor or instructor, you MUST be using Google+.
Yeah, that’s easy for me to say. My career in large part is about identifying and leveraging emerging technologies that are relevant to journalism, testing them, experimenting, and conducting research. I enjoy checking out all the new digital stuff that our technology friends unleash on the world, and figuring out what’s useful and relevant to our profession — what will advance storytelling, reporting techniques, community, and news business models — and what’s not.
Many a journalist and many a journalism professor will recoil at the thought of trying out yet another social-media service. They want to do or teach journalism, not add on to what already may seem like social-media overload. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Youtube, Flickr, Digg… — and now Google+! Can’t we just stop already and stick to the basics of producing and teaching good journalism?!
I’m sympathetic to that sentiment, but only to a degree. For many upstart online, mobile, and social-media services that appear to be useful journalistic tools but have not yet caught much traction, fine, leave it to people like me to figure out if they’re of use to the profession.
Take VYou.com, a social-based video Q&A and audience interaction service that I’m very fond of. I think VYou has tremendous potential to be useful to journalists, and I encourage people to use it. At the University of Colorado Boulder, where I’m the program director for the Digital News Test Kitchen, I’ve convinced some of our faculty, researchers, and student journalists to experiment with VYou.com.
But I will not go so far as to suggest that you are a bad journalist or an incompetent journalism professor because you’re not willing to give VYou a chance and try it out. As much as I like VYou and the online and mobile interaction model it represents, the service has yet to prove itself.
Google+ is different. Google has tried before to get it right with a social-media service. Buzz, it is pretty well acknowledged, was a flop. Okrut, Google’s first foray into social media, got popular outside the U.S., but never caught on in Google’s home country. The company seems to have learned some important lessons and has incorporated them into Google+. The reviews for Google+ have been mostly positive — actually, very positive. (Count me as enthusiastic about Google+; I’m likely to be a loyal user, just as with Facebook.) Rapid growth to 25 million users in a matter of weeks since launch of the “field trial” should tell you that Google+ is a compelling social-media experience which poses the most serious threat to Facebook of anything else out there.
For that reason, I can take the view — certain to be unpopular among many journalists who are weary of keeping up with the latest digital-media developments — that journalists have got to become familiar with Google+, just as they must be familiar with and use Facebook and Twitter.
I mean, c’mon, tens and hundreds of million people are using those services, and they’re getting news from them! If you expect to remain a working journalist, you really have no choice but to understand the impact that Facebook, Twitter, and now Google+ are having on the news environment. And you can’t understand them unless you use those services.
For those who teach journalism, I will be even more emphatic. If you are teaching tomorrow’s journalists, and you are not up to speed on and using the services with hundreds of millions of users — social-media services that are profoundly changing the way people get news that’s relevant to them — then you’re doing your students a grave disservice.
Does everyone have to try out and/or use Google+, or Facebook and Twitter? Of course not, and huge parts of the population in the U.S. and other countries will continue to sit out the social-media revolution.
But if you are a journalist working today, or a journalism educator, you have an obligation to use and understand these services. I would hope that few reading these words are not already regular users of Facebook and Twitter. If you’re still holding out on Google+, waiting to see if it’s something worth spending some of your time learning and using, you’re late for the train.
“Right now, nominations are open for the Online Journalism Awards. What qualities should awards like this endorse in an era of such tremendous change in the news industry?”
I’m a bit late, so I’ve had the opportunity to read some of the earlier entries. A common theme is that good, solid, hard-hitting journalism is a must for receiving OJA recognition, and where new technology comes in is for journalists to select the right (digital) technology to best communicate the story in innovative ways. It’s a consistent, logical message: Balance strong journalism with digital innovation. I can’t argue with that.
But I also picked up some disdain about ONA — indeed, about technology-focused and forward-thinking journalists — obsessing too much on “the latest shiny new thing” and downplaying the serious-journalism part. So here I get to veer off the common path and praise shiny new digital things that can be useful in the practice of journalism.
Clearly, no one (including me) is going to advocate ignoring or downplaying the great-journalism piece. But I like the shiny new things that today’s technologists foist on the market, especially those that have interesting and potentially powerful applications for journalism and storytelling.
Of course, I’m biased. My digital-media program at the University of Colorado Boulder serves, in part, as the horizon watcher for the Journalism & Mass Communication program. So it’s my job to take a look at all the shiny new digital things that come along and assess whether or not they might be useful to journalists (and non-journalists doing journalism-like things, like recording disasters and news events when they find themselves as eyewitnesses holding a phone capable of recording audio, video, taking photos, and sharing any of that instantly with the world).
Having done this for a good long time, I like to think that I can identify the new digital toys (um, I mean tools) that have the potential for significantly impacting how we practice journalism. Likewise, I can usually spot the ones that aren’t worth my enthusiasm. Of course, I’m not always right, and neither is anyone else who calls him/herself a media geek.
Again, I’m biased because of the work that I do, but I really wish that more publishers, editors, and journalists working in news organizations would take a more adventurous path and try (the most promising of the) shiny new things. Ditto for professors in journalism programs (and that includes the one where I work). Too many, in my experience, view it as a waste of their time and prefer to wait for others to prove that the latest new technology is important to journalism — then maybe they’ll climb on board.
Oh, Steve, I can hear the skeptics mutter as they read this, you’re just a gadget freak; you enjoy this, but we don’t! … But let’s think about why being a student of “emerging digital technology” is not just an idle pastime for those of us concerned about the future of journalism.
Consider the news industry. Newspapers have died, are dying; journalists by the thousands have been shown the door, and those jobs aren’t coming back. There’s a (small but) thriving new news landscape shaping up, but it’s still dwarfed by old media, and too often funded by foundation and philanthropic money because this new wave of news organizations is not yet sustainable without charity. On the former, slowness in adopting emerging digital technologies is one of the major reasons that the news industry is in such a mess today.
Consider journalism education. Sure, there are plenty of digital innovators teaching tomorrow’s journalists. But they remain the minority. If most journalism educators at colleges and universities focused a decent portion of their time on digital innovation, perhaps the “answers” to resurrecting a failed news industry would have been discovered by now — by faculty, students, and researchers in the higher-education system!
Consider, too, this old Apple TV commercial, “Think Different,” celebrating the innovators and the risk-takers:
Since I first moved from old news to an Internet career in 1994, the ones who “thought differently,” became fabulously wealthy, and invented new industries (thus disrupting old ones) have been in the technology sector, primarily. Journalists mostly “thought the same” about the digital revolution swirling around them, or “thought a little bit differently.” It’s little wonder, then, that our profession still struggles to find its way.
It’s not realistic to believe that journalists can suddenly “think different” to such a degree and achieve as much as the founders of Google, eBay, Twitter, Facebook, et al. But more modest and doable is to take risks and try out promising new digital technologies right away; experiment now, not tomorrow. Accept failures as part of the deal, and run with the successes.
Which leads (finally) back to the Online Journalism Awards. I’d like to see OJA’s organizers recognize and honor the risk takers in the profession. Such an award might not be given to an individual or organization that has yet chalked up a big success. But it is these people and companies that will lead the news industry through this rough digital transition and to success on the other side of the chasm.
I’d like to see OJA reward the misfits and the tinkerers within journalism. Without them guiding the news industry forward, there will be little great journalism on which to bestow awards.
I’m not the most organized person, but I do try. And thanks to some wonderful digital technologies that I’ve discovered, I’m much better at staying organized than in the past. So I do feel qualified to participate in this month’s Carnival of Journalism, where the challenge is:
What are your life hacks, workflows, tips, tools, apps, websites, skills, and techniques that allow you to work smarter and more effectively?
Here are just a few things that I find most valuable:
While I prefer to do my work and store it in the cloud, Omnifocus is an exception. It’s a client app (Mac only) for organizing projects and your life, and it’s by far the best I’ve found. And I’ve tried LOTS of personal organizers, going all the way back to paper Franklin Planners (failed), to using a Handspring Visor (an old Palm Pilot clone), to Remember the Milk, and loads more that failed me — or more accurately, I failed them. But Omnifocus is great. It takes some time initially to get it set up with your projects and personal behavior patterns reflected, and you need to use it regularly to keep it up to date, but the effort is worth it. Omnifocus also syncs with its iPhone/iPod Touch and iPad apps, but both of those must be purchased separately from the $80 price of the Mac app. (While Omnifocus syncs to the cloud, you’re working on your Mac or iOS device, so I differentiate that from actually working in the cloud, as with something like Remember the Milk.)
This is obvious, but worth mentioning as a cloud-based way to create and store your work and notes. Rather than my old way of taking notes (say, during a phone interview) on TextEdit, I open up a new Google Docs text document and save it to a folder. I also do my writing on Google Docs (unless I’m away from Internet connectivity); I like the security of knowing that if my Macbook’s hard drive dies while I’m writing, my work won’t be lost. (Yes, that has happened to me in the past.)
ActiveInbox for Gmail
I love Gmail, and I’ve loved Gmail for many years. (I cannot believe some people still use Outlook! Yuck!!) What makes Gmail even better is adding on ActiveInbox, which helps you manage e-mail tasks and projects and overall makes managing a massive and active inbox much easier. It works with Gmail’s existing labels, and the learning curve is close to zero. It’s based on GTD (Getting Things Done) principles. I love it.
This is another Gmail add-on, and I can’t recommend this one highly enough. With Rapportive on top of Gmail, when you open up an e-mail, say from someone you don’t know, Rapportive looks up the sender on various social networks and displays that information (along with a photo of the person, usually) in the right column, so it’s simple to learn about the mysterious e-mail correspondent. Hover over any address in an e-mail and Rapportive will instantly reveal details on that person, which is great when an e-mail has multiple recipients and you want to find out more about them.
Scrible is a browser bookmarklet that allows you to highlight any webpage and add comments to it. You can then save the highlighted version of the page to your personal Scrible.com library and tag the articles for grouping, or e-mail the highlighted copy of the article to someone else. This is a very new product, so it’s not perfect; I occasionally try to mark up or save an article and Scrible’s servers are super-slow or don’t respond. I wish that I could share my personal library of highlighted articles, or groups of tagged highlighted articles, with others, but that’s not possible (and probably would violate copyright law if it was). But I really like the interface of this bookmarklet. My wife insists that Diijo is the best of these types of save-stuff-and-mark-it-up solutions, but I prefer Scrible; it just seems faster that using Diijo. I’m hoping that Scrible will evolve to be even better, but it’s off to a great start.
USAA Mobile Deposit
If you don’t bank with USAA, perhaps your bank has a similar phone app. USAA’s iPhone app allows you to take photos of both sides of a check and deposit it instantly. Thankfully, electronic deposit, Paypal, et al are fast making paper checks go the way of printed newspapers. But just like newspapers, checks will be with us for a while, so it’s a great time-saver to be able to use my iPhone to deposit them.
Zite for iPad
I own an iPad (1), and it’s my favored device for keeping up with RSS feeds (i.e., personalized news). I’ve tried most of the slick RSS readers and personalized-news apps for the iPad, like Flipboard, News.me, Trove, Reeder, and others that I’ve now put out of my memory. But Zite stands out and is the one that I continue to use regularly. Highly recommended.
For this month’s Carnival of Journalism, ringmaster David Cohn asked something I wasn’t sure I wanted to answer. But I’ve got a solid track record participating in the resurrected Carnival so far, so I decided not to break my streak.
Since Knight turned down all three Knight News Challenge submissions from my program at the University of Colorado Boulder (including one I thought was and is damn good and important for the future of journalism credibility and accountability!), I’ll pass on Knight in case any disappointment-inspired bias might spill out in my words. So Reynolds it is!
As Cohn (a Reynolds fellow himself) noted, the program is only four years old. It’s not as big and doesn’t accept as many fellows as, say, Stanford’s renowned Knight Fellowships program. Therefore, the program is still shaping itself. Cohn asked:
1. How would you shape the fellowship to drive innovation?
Because the program is small, I’d narrow the focus significantly. In fact, for each fellowship year, I’d pick a theme and find fellows who all wanted to work on complementary aspects of the theme. Let’s say for the next crew of fellows, select all of them because they want to focus on variations on a theme of “business models for journalism in the digital age.” Next year, I’d pick a different theme. The key would be that the theme is the most important challenge or opportunity facing journalism at the time. Business models for journalism addresses solving a big problem for the news industry and for journalists who want to make a living. A theme that could address an opportunity instead of a problem would be best utilizing emerging mobile technologies in the news realm.
Such an approach is less appropriate for a larger fellowship program, like Stanford’s, which takes on 20 fellows each year.
2. What types of fellows should they be looking for?
If we go with my answer to No. 1, then I’d say find a mix of fellows from multiple disciplines who can work together to address the year’s theme issue or opportunity. If the theme is business models for news, then, of course, bring in a business expert who perhaps is not a journalist but has a strong interest in publishing business models. Or an economist. Or a marketing guru. Don’t invite in as fellows people who don’t know or care about the news industry, but rather individuals who want to engage and can work well with the journalist fellows. One word is key: interdisciplinary.
3. What types of fellows should they avoid?
Pure journalists. I’d much rather see Reynolds recruit journalists who also hold MBAs, or are extremely competent technologists. Avoid one-dimensional journalists. And especially, avoid anyone who doesn’t believe with 100% of their being that in the media of today and the future, digital is at the center of things and is the control hub for any media or news organization.
4. What programs should the fellows go through in order to drive innovation?
Bring in lots of outside experts to get the fellows thinking beyond the confines of journalism. If mobile is the theme, bring in mobile industry leaders and force them to shift gears and think with the fellows about how the news industry can leverage emerging mobile developments that the industry leaders are working on today. Bring in entrepreneurs who may not be focused on news and journalism as a market opportunity, yet who are building digital products or services that have significant potential for news; force them to focus on news applications, and let the fellows lobby the entrepreneurs to put some thinking and resources into addressing news problems and opportunities.
Get the fellows to roam the university, finding partners in other disciplines to assist them in thinking through and developing innovative news-beneficial projects that cannot be done by journalists alone. If any of the journalist fellows come out of the program with any old journalistic dogma still in their heads, the program will have been a failure.
So, it’s Carnival of Journalism time of the month again, and ringmaster David Cohn this time has posed the question, “Considering your unique circumstances, what steps can be taken to increase the number of news sources?”
OK, that’s an easy one when I apply my “unique circumstances,” which is that I live in Boulder, Colorado, and focus my career on digital media. You see, there’s this project at work that this question is tailored for, exactly. The result so far is the website SlicesofBoulder.com, which is a project that’s part of my Digital Media Test Kitchen program at CU-Boulder’s School of Journalism & Mass Communication (and utilizing technology and consulting from our Toronto friends at Eqentia).
SlicesofBoulder at this point addresses David’s question by not “increasing” the number of news sources serving Boulder, but rather by “finding” them, since so many exist online. Last summer, we (SJMC instructor Sandra Fish, master’s student researcher Jenny Dean, and I) attempted to find all the credible news and information sources in and around Boulder that send content about Boulder flowing onto the web. (If you want to know more, here’s an old blog post explaining the project.)
Here’s my first point: There’s no great need to increase the number of news sources, at least in our scenic college town of Boulder, nor in most cities. If you expand your definition of “news source” beyond its traditional meaning, Boulder and lots of other communities have hundreds or thousands of “news” sources online.
Where the need exists is not in “creating” more news sources, but rather in developing “online hubs” like SlicesofBoulder.com to track them all, intelligently sort and filter them, and provide a simple-to-use interface and personalization features so online users can find the flow of news and information they want from all the sources that now exist in this digital, everyone’s-a-publisher age.
I used the term “online hub” above because that was Recommendation #15 of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy’s Informing Communities report: “Ensure that every local community has at least one high-quality online hub.”
Anyway, for Boulder, at least, the first pass at creating a community online hub has been accomplished. But the next step, I believe, is the most important: Developing systems to analyze and rate the many online news and information sources that serve a community like Boulder, so that a local resident who while using our online hub comes upon a never-seen-before website, or blog, or institutional news feed, or whatever is able to determine if this unknown digital-content entity provides credible information or not.
Researcher Robin Donovan and I currently are working on this next phase of the SlicesofBoulder project. The idea is that a user of the site will be able to see credibility, accuracy, bias, popularity, and other ratings of any source that we track on the site.
My dream is that at some point in the near future, I’ll have a web-browser extension (or the functionality will be built into the browser) that will give me a wide range of ratings representing various and multiple parameters for whatever website I find myself on.
I don’t know that the need is so much that we need to create more news and information sources online, but rather that of the unfathomable number of sources that already exist on the web to provide us with news and information, that we have a way to know whether to trust them or not, or have some indication of their quality based on multiple layers of automated and human analysis.
I’ll be interested to read other contributions to this month’s Carnival of Journalism. Perhaps other writers will suggest that we do need more sources. If so, I’ll be especially interested in how they justify that when we already are faced as news/information consumers with major digital information overload.