News Leadership 3.0

May 04, 2008

Inventing a new ecology for news

News Tools 2008 highlights rise
of the journalism entrepreneur

News Tools 2008 is now history. As Joe Grimm explains here, it was an unconference that eschewed expert panels and speakers and instead relied on participants to shape the agenda and convene sessions.

I saw abundant bursts of energy and creativity, rather than the carefully crafted storyline more traditional conferences seek to create.

That may also be an apt description for an emerging ecosystem for news collection and distribution in the digital age: Increasingly individuals and smaller collections of people will create significant amounts of news content and make it available to the public online.

Key to this new ecosystem is entrepreneurship. Journalists - many from downsizing newsrooms - are exploring ways to get paid directly by the public or by community foundations or even private investors.

How would this work? Here are a few experiments:

—Small payments or subscriptions that pay for journalists to cover specific stories or issues. Would parents in a local community, for example, be willing to pay small amounts for more detailed coverage of their children’s schools than the local metro newspaper is providing? Journalist David Cohn is working on online tools to help journalists monetize their efforts.

—In a similar vein, the just-launched ReelChanges Web site will allow people to make tax-deductible contributions to support production of documentary journalism.

—Could a community hire a journalist to provide local coverage? Journalism professor Len Witt has a grant to try that idea out in Northfield, Minn., where a “representative journalist” will be hired to add professional reporting to an existing community site.
These experiments are fraught with potential and with risks. The journalists will need to take care to protect their journalistic independence as they step into the world of fund raising.

All the same, experimentation and risk-taking may pave the way for future journalism that can supplement and enrich what traditional news organizations provide.

Dan Gillmor, who heads the new Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship, says it’s a great environment for young journalists.  “What I’m telling students is that they chances that they would get on career ladder that people of my age got on are shrinking rapidly… That is not a problem because there’s never been a better time in journalism to invent their own jobs This is an incredible time of opportunity for young journalists”

These efforts may provide little solace to traditional news organizations coping with a digital tsunami and a diminishing bottom line.

Still, they may suggest opportunity. How will traditional news organizations interact with an increasingly diverse and potentially chaotic news universe? Do these developments suggest an emerging role for large traditional news organizations? As news system atomizes and diversifies, who is better equipped to synthesize as a more coherent whole?


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Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

Get in touch with Michele at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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