Initial outreach findings and next steps
The networked journalism collaborative design project has continued over the last month, with our work focused largely on meeting with possible collaborators identified through J-Lab’s study, as well as other organizations involved in professional news gathering who we hope will be involved in developing this project. We’ll continue to meet with journalists and news gatherers in the coming months, but we wanted to provide a snapshot of the discussions and how the project is evolving.
The meetings included individuals with varied experience and backgrounds, but almost everyone was interested in being involved, which was encouraging. This was unsurprising considering we’re at a formative phase, but pleasing nonetheless because we’re hoping to create a framework for the collaboration that is inclusive, and encourages independence and innovation.
Many of the discussions touched on common themes, including:
- Capacity building: Collaborators were interested in funding of reporting projects, as well as back-end business resources and strategy development
- Brand identity: As J-Lab’s report indicated, most participants are interested in maintaining their individual brands because they see value in the recognition and community they’ve built around them.
- Audience development: Most felt they needed to reach a larger audience and recognized the importance of mass media in achieving an effective watchdog function and in providing a sense of the Zeitgeist of living in Philadelphia. There was also discussion of how to diversify and expand the community for public affairs news beyond the already initiated. This means developing methods to bring professional journalism to underserved communities, and build community around the news that is generated.
- No Magic Bullets: Participants agreed there was no one solution to improving public interest coverage, attracting new audiences and providing a watchdog service in the region.
- Governance: Most participants didn’t want to lose editorial control of their work product, while at the same time encouraging the selection of strong leadership for whatever effort emerges from this process.
Many participants encouraged taking on electoral politics and city and regional governance (mentioned in J-Lab’s report as a Smart Voter Guide) and consistently mentioned the need for (Daily Show – type) humor in truth telling. There was also interest in increased hyperlocal neighborhood based reporting that we’re already seeing in aspects of WHYY’s NewsWorks project, the Frankford Gazette and NEastPhilly, as well as through other established neighborhood news outlets.
Throughout the conversations, participants expressed a need for more aggregation, more curating, the creation of central pointer sites and funding sources for investigative journalism, as well as competitions for start-up ideas among professional journalists. At the same time, OMG Center for Collaborative Learning is providing a national scan of best practices by conducting interviews with journalists and news organizations across the country who have launched online news collaboratives.
From these conversations and national best practices, we’re hoping to begin to develop collaborations around pilot projects that can inform the Foundation’s funding strategy moving forward. A question which emerged from collaborator discussions which will be important to address in that process was whether the project which is developed should ‘be’ something (i.e. a ‘website’) or a framework for supporting news/info/content development. Because this may be a distinction without a difference (the content developed lives somewhere anyway, and is part of a larger network regardless of its homebase), a better question may be how to invest in infrastructure that is enduring and builds value over time regardless of changes in content delivery, news organizations and sustainability models. And, perhaps most importantly, how to produce news and information that furthers the project’s broad goals for improving government transparency and citizen engagement?
Many mechanisms for content delivery were mentioned: Hub sites, geographic based niche sites, issue based niche sites, ‘serious’ public affairs sites, ‘snarky’ public affairs sites, pointer/portal sites, curation sites, aggregator sites and apps, project based journalism, and more. I expect some of these may serve as vehicles for the projects which develop from the collaboration, but in the immediate term, I’m working with the Foundation and OMG Center for Collaborative Learning to explore and define organization al structures for the project, and establish ways of measuring the value created by the work. Possible units for value include audience relationships to content providers, affiliation within a network, a more informed citizenry with elevated expectations for the public sector, a watchdog culture, (permanent) advancements in government transparency, greater access to data, and of course, original content which establishes a permanent record. I’m sure others will emerge as well as the project progresses.
The design of the project(s) will be filtered through the original principles stated by the Foundation at the outset of the project, summarized below:
- Chronicle civic issues in our region and advance the public interest
- Capitalize on the collective strength of our region’s journalism assets
- Respect the independence and identity of established projects and provide value to its members
- Create a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
- Be flexible and scalable to support experimentation, evolve, and take advantage of new opportunities.
- Infuse with sustainability mindset
- Capitalize on the opportunities presented by technology
- Focus on professional journalism, broadly defined.
These will be helpful in structuring how to organize the project(s), take advantage of multiple distribution platforms, engage content providers and consumer, and determine ways to sustain the project(s). We’ll plan to keep you updated here as our work progresses, but please leave comments and questions. And thanks again for your interest in this project.