Don’t give your money to me! And other advice for innovation in journalism

The Carnival of Journalism topic this month is innovation in journalism, and how folks with money to spend should spend it. Specifically mentioned are the Knight News Challenge program and the fellowships at the Reynolds Journalism Institute (which I’m lucky enough to be a part of this year).

My advice for folks in a position to invest in journalism boils down to this: Don’t give money to me. In fact, don’t give money to anyone with my skill set or ideas.

That goes for newsrooms, too. Stop hiring people like me. Hire people with skills you don’t have but can imagine being useful. Stop looking for your ideas in the form of people who have spent most of their careers in print journalism, working with other journalists.

(I should of course mention that some of my favorite smart people work in newsrooms, and I’d hate to see them leave. But at the moment, newsrooms aren’t running low on smart journalists. They’re running low on innovation. And money. So let’s put our new eggs there, shall we?)

A great example: One of Knight’s 2010 winners was Front Porch Forum, a network of community building neighborhood forums. Michael Wood-Lewis from FPF doesn’t call what he does journalism, but he definitely recognizes how it fits into the landscape of what journalists do. He’s figured out how to share, and to enable individuals to share, information that’s relevant to daily living. Sign me up.

Community building is high on the list of industries I’d look to for help with journalism’s future. Others include:

— civic activism and politics
— social psychology and applied anthropology
— marketing and market research
— data visualization (actually, all kinds of data work)
— gaming (anyone at South by Southwest this year probably has a sense of the hugeness of this)
— analytics (there’s so much we could/should be learning about our audiences)
— documentary filmmaking
— user experience/interface design

I’ve spent this academic year looking at community engagement in journalism, and my most enlightening interviews have been with people who did not go to journalism school.

That’s why a workshop I’m hosting in May will be interdisciplinary. As journalists chew on what engagement is and how to measure it, I want the participation of people with perspectives I’d never consider on my own.

So please, let’s stop talking to each other. Let’s stop investing in ideas that sound rational and safe to us. Instead, let’s find the ones that we can’t wrap our brains around but want to hear more about. Let’s invest in people and ideas that make us uncomfortable.


6 thoughts on “Don’t give your money to me! And other advice for innovation in journalism

  1. A great idea, thanks. Brings two things to mind:
    – American Public Media’s Public Insight Network, which solicits listeners/viewers/readers as news sources, is creating a ready-made database of people who might be drafting into news reporting – AND they are interested enough in media to offer their expertise to reporters.
    – Less laudable, perhaps, but fills the bill: many local TV stations have recognized that young people can carry out all things media with their eyes closed (so to speak). Interns are doing TV jobs (for free or low wages) that only highly-trained pros used to do. This is both very sad and a great hunting ground for newspapers looking for people with fresh eyes and interest in journalism.

    Keep up the good work!

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