Monday, January 18, 2010

The Future Of Journalism: The J-Ecosystem.

EVERY "SAVE JOURNALISM" event is dominated by legacy media, people who are financially bound to the way things were. There are generally start-up folks as well, and they are concerned about sustaining themselves. Educators worry about getting funding. Rarely are there folks from the communities served, although that is not the point of this post.

The point is that we all have a vested interest in the future of journalism. Collaboration isn't the long-term solution, I don't believe, but it may be a bridge that buys time until the next funding model for journalism is fully developed.

The problem is that everyone asks, "What's in it for me?"

Well, we're in this together, folks. So how about this: let's create a journalism ecosystem.

I believe there is merit in my previous post regarding the Domino Effect. In that system, the smaller, niche operations get funding from non-profits and the larger outlets get on-the-ground manpower. The system could build and eventually become self-sustaining, I think, and maybe even profitable.

But that is just one-third of what we need.

First, I think we need to develop back-end services for start-up companies to ensure their longevity. There needs to be guidance for advertising, marketing, design and basic business skills. Non-profits may be the way these places begin but that is not a long-term business plan. These places need to learn to stand on their own.

Second, I think there needs to be journalism education. Niche operations as well as the communities served need media literacy training. This starts with the basics of reporting, multimedia information and legal training. But it would also move into ethics, the First Amendment, and criticism of the media. We all need to better understand the role of the journalist so that we can do a better job as journalists, and so we can demand better products as consumers.

The Domino Effect is the final part of the triangle - a website aggregating/ curating the community and niche outlet news, plus a quarterly investigative project. That creates a product as well as a process for important, relevant news to flow.

Everything would feed into each other. It would be holistic, in theory.

I imagine an umbrella group would need to be formed in order to make this happen, maybe something along the lines of the non-profit University City District or the original idea of the Associated Press. The various stakeholders would be involved in some way, though the editorial content should remain independent.

This all begins with collaboration. We can eliminate the massive redundancies in the media and use our resources more wisely. We can build something amazing and incredibly useful to the city.


Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Future Of Journalism: The Domino Effect.

TRADITIONAL MEDIA may be struggling but there is energy among content producers here in Philadelphia. There are a lot of people doing really cool stuff.

Today, the William Penn Foundation brought together a lot of those folks - established outlets and newbies - to discuss how we might all be able to work together.

Of course, we did not reach a consensus on anything. There was some harping about the 1960's, some ranting about, and a lot of concern about the general public receiving a comprehensive package of information. There was talk of creating a collaborative website that would also generate original reporting, though the reception of that proposal was rather lukewarm.

Overall, the day was enlightening. And it gave me an idea.

Rather than primarily creating a website dedicated to producing original content, I think there should be a website that aggregates content produced in various communities (geographic and thematic). For instance, there are numerous weekly, community newspapers in the city. Most of them have horrible websites that are difficult to search.

An aggregater would provide easy access for people looking for interesting and unusual stories in the city, i.e. the mainstream media.

The mainstream media primarily react to events now because they don't have the staffing to be proactive - sending reporters into various communities to see what is happening. This aggregater site would provide on-the-ground insight, showing the mainstream media that more happens in some neighborhoods than just the murder of the day. Stories could also be purchased and used by the mainstream media, or the mainstream media could do their own follow up investigations.

To complement the aggregater, I propose a quarterly print publication (and web component) that solely does long-form, investigative journalism. The investigative publication would be directed to high end audiences, people in powerful positions, and those who care deeply about public affairs. The investigative product would serve two purposes: 1). to dig into major issues impacting the city/ region and 2). to act as an agenda-setter for the mainstream media.

There would be sidebars next to the long-form pieces that break down the numbers so that sound-byte media can digest and distribute the information quickly and easily.

The idea would be to create a domino effect in the media because one story in one outlet is not enough anymore.

I think the model could be sustainable. The investigative work would be expensive. Some money could be generated through advertising on the aggregater site. Additional revenue would be generated by the quarterly print issue. The investigative content could also be sold to traditional media, or repurposed in other ways.

It would take start up money to get the wheels rolling, as advertisers would probably not invest in an unknown product.

This could be a way of making people care about the important issues that impact citizens' lives.

Just an idea. I'd appreciate any feedback.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Of Friends and Unfettered Thought.

THE FIVE GRADUATE STUDENTS live in an old home, far from everything including the village created to house the servants back in the old days. The students spend their days studying literature at Trinity College, reading, conversing, restoring the home and enjoying each others' company. They lead examined lives, pondering meanings in books and life, and they shun Capitalism in all its forms.

Everything is grand until one of them is murdered.

Tana French, author of The Likeness, delivers an implausible plot twist - an undercover detective, who happens to be the victim's mirror image, takes the victim's place in the house. We are expected to believe that the detective sufficiently learns enough about the victim to imitate her speech, actions and thoughts. And then the detective slides right into the victim's life, fooling everyone around her.

It's a stretch, for sure. And French spends the first 150 pages of the novel explaining the characters' history so that we buy the premise. The detective is rather brilliant and oddly similar to the victim, French writes.

Fortunately, French deftly builds these characters (the students, locals and law enforcement), giving them personalities and back stories. They are an intriguing group, weaved together expertly. There is also background on the Irish people, as well as the country and its difficult relationship with the British. The book is more than a police procedural, which it seemed like it would be in the beginning. The book is about why people do what they do.

I came to admire the students and their ability to live independently (albeit as a group). Their existences revolved around unfettered thought rather than the mundane musings of everyday life. They discussed and debated ideas, using literature as the support for their arguments. While the rest of the world is blogging and twittering, these students basked in conversation. They complemented each other, it seems, creating one whole.

I wish I had as much time to read as they do, and more friends to discuss literature with.