Prepping for a session for the International Press Institute (IPI) annual congress last week in Vienna, I asked the panelists, among other things, to describe a media trend they find encouraging.
In addressing the same question, I found myself hooked by an idea that has no metrics but seems quite real nonetheless: a significant shift in attention from the diminishment of journalism to its rediscovery and reinvention.
This sort of epiphany arrives at different times for different people; many digital pioneers have declared as much for years.
The turning point for me came in the 152-page report on the future of news that I edited for IPI along with Poynter Online Director Julie Moos. The report, «Brave News Worlds: Navigating the New Media Landscape,» was published last week.
The 42 essays were written by news executives, leaders of nonprofits, digital thought leaders and educators from more than 20 countries. None of them argue that journalism’s transition from print to digital will be smooth. Of course it won’t be.
But the authors — a list that includes Jeff Jarvis (p. 8), Alan Rusbridger (p. 12), Clay Shirky (p. 18), Roy Greenslade (p. 26), Paul Tash (p. 39), Dan Gillmor (p. 42), Grzegorz Piechota (p. 60), Paul Bradshaw (p. 74), Sheila S. Coronel (p. 95), Yuen-Ying Chan (p. 112) and Daoud Kuttab (p. 140) — provide evidence of new traction in sustaining journalism that matters.
To make the report more useful (we’ll supplement that bulky PDF with more accessible formats), we highlighted main themes by adding tags to the top right of each article’s first page.
I list 10 of those tags — processed, partnered,linked, engaged, innovated, independent, trusted,investigated, trained, sustained — in a concluding article in the report (p. 149). I focused on three of them in our panel discussion:
Investigated: Describing what she suggests may be «a Golden Age of global muckraking,» Columbia University journalism professor Sheila S. Coronel points out that cutbacks in U.S. newsrooms have challenged investigative capacity, noting, «With many newspapers at death’s door, there’s worry about whether they can keep the [investigative] flame alive.
Sheila S. Coronel
«But elsewhere,» she adds, «democracy and technology are prying open previously closed societies and providing citizens with information unavailable to them in the not-too-distant past. From Bahrain to Burma, from Russian to China to Zimbabwe, the new muckrakers are using blogs, mobile phones and social media to expose the predations of those in power.»
As a judge for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting earlier this year, I was struck by the high quality of investigative work by news organizations of all sizes. As those organizations struggle to establish their role in their communities, the professional demands of investigative reporting emerge as a big opportunity for journalists to differentiate themselves in the media ecosystem.
That’s not to say they’ll do that work entirely on their own. Grzegorz Piechota, head of social campaigns at the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, documents how the paper collected 40,000 personal accounts of childbirth in the course of its investigation of 423 maternity wards across the country.
As Coronel puts it, «The future of investigative news will be collaborative.»
Partnered: To its credit, the IPI congress mostly moved beyond such clichéd characterizations of collaborative journalism as «citizen surgeons» or «citizen pilots.» Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab challenges such thinking by highlighting the groundbreaking reporting of courageous bloggers and other non-journalists in oppressive societies.
Alan Rusbridger, editor in chief of The Guardian in London, takes Coronel one step further and argues that the future of news, period, is collaborative. He and his colleagues have their own name for it — «mutualized news» — and include openness as a key characteristic along with collaborative.
A core challenge for news organizations going forward will be developing systems to incorporate what digital thinker Clay Shirky describes as «coordinated voluntary participation» of readers and users.
Drawing on research for his new book, «Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age,» Shirky describes such participation as «a new resource … that allows us to treat the connected world’s free time and talents in aggregate as something which, used right, can change the very idea of news — what it is, how it is created and experienced and shared.»
The report is laced with examples of partnerships — with local bloggers, schools, even competitors — that were once considered unthinkable and are now increasingly regarded as essential by news organizations.
Sustained: The report does not focus much on business models per sé, but instead describes ways that journalists worldwide are creating new value for a range of constituents across new and legacy platforms. Some of that new value will result in new revenue streams; some of it won’t. News organizations will almost certainly be smaller, with some of their diminished news capacity replaced by the contributions of — and collaboration with — partners.
Paul Tash proposes three imperatives to find such paths: Control costs, embrace new ways, believe in the business.Alex Jones, who also authors an essay in the attached report, and my Poynter colleague Rick Edmonds, have documented the extent to which news has been lost, especially over the last decade.
It’s unlikely that advertising and circulation revenue will ever generate as much revenue to support news as they once did. Even multiple revenue streams from sources such as grants, custom content, memberships and donations will likely produce less money than news organizations enjoyed previously.
A hybrid approach appears to be the most viable path ahead. Poynter (and St. Petersburg Times) chairman Paul Tash proposes three imperatives to find such paths: Control costs, embrace new ways and believe in the business.