Update on recommendations development
The Networked Journalism Collaborative Project is nearing completion of its current phase, as OMG Center for Collaborative Learning and I are working to submit final recommendations to William Penn Foundation staff for their review. As previously mentioned, we’ve been working over the last six months to synthesize our findings and shape recommendations for an overall grant making strategy for the Foundation, and to develop projects which might inform future grant-making. Our research and analysis relied on interviews with local news and information stakeholders, national leaders in media innovation, and Foundation staff, and focused on increasing the amount and quality of public affairs news and information available in the Greater Philadelphia area.
This project began as an effort to remedy the decline in public interest journalism the region had experienced over recent years. However, we were mindful of the broader outcomes which public interest journalism seeks: transparency, civic awareness, and accountability. William Penn Foundation’s previous support of journalism, including projects like the Public School Notebook, PlanPhilly and It’s Our Money, was invested in these same outcomes. In viewing journalism as a means to achieving these outcomes, we recommended that multiple pathways or hybrid models be considered.
We were also aware that although public affairs reporting had declined, the regional ecosystem has many assets, including the local dailies that continue to provide more accountability and watchdog journalism than most communities enjoy, and strong newcomers like NJ Spotlight, Newsworks, Brownstoner, and Technically Philly and many others that are filling gaps in coverage and creating news areas that never existed before. This mix has created a dynamic, constantly evolving public interest information landscape in Philadelphia. Because of this, we sought a broad vision for the project, which we defined as a framework, project(s) or institution(s) to provide the people of Greater Philadelphia with the information, understanding, and tools to demand high quality, transparent public decision-making, and accountable civic leaders and institutions.
To achieve this vision, we determined that the project must:
- Support a network of public interest journalists and data providers in establishing credibility as a source of news and public information through quality content development and strong distribution partnerships;
- Encourage the network to achieve sustainability through diverse financial support and multiple revenue streams;
- Support the expansion and diversification of civic engagement in public decision-making through the network;
- Increase the public’s understanding of significant issues of public interest through significant media coverage and public debate on decisions that impact the public interest of Philadelphia and the region;
- Increase the transparency and accountability of public institutions and officials.
Because these outcomes are broad, we recommended the creation of a multitasking entity that could achieve these outcomes. This entity could:
- Identify gaps in public interest news coverage;
- Fill those gaps, either through original reporting or in collaboration with existing news entities;
- Provide financial support to fund journalism;
- Support a diverse news and information ecosystem to increase the audience reached by public interest journalism;
- Convene network partners to provide field-building and technology resources and back-end services, and test sustainability best practices as they are employed by networked journalism partners;
- Incubate innovative projects with a focus on achieving sustainability.
The envisioned entity would possess professional staff, significant funding resources, and time to develop a strategic plan to determine how to approach and deliver on its mission. Because of this, it’s important to keep in mind that our recommendations represent the beginning of a process. If our recommendations are accepted by the Foundation’s board, we would expect several next steps, including:
- Identifying a host institution to administer the project, support its objectives, and nurture a culture of experimentation, partnerships, and learning-by-doing, as well as meet standards for receiving foundation funding;
- Identifying and attracting leadership who can successfully launch and manage the entity;
- Developing a strategic plan for the entity to guide its work over its first years in operation;
- Identifying tracking mechanisms to monitor metrics to help guide its mission, including keeping track of its social impact in the value of audience relationships, affiliation within a network, a more informed citizenry, advancements in government transparency, greater access to data, and the establishment of a permanent public record (an interest in Social ROI is something we share with the San Francisco-based start-up, The Bay Citizen).
We expect that the entity will adhere to the principles set out at the beginning of this process:
- 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.
While we’ve been developing these recommendations, we’ve already seen exciting collaborations and partnerships emerging organically from local news organizations, including WHYY’s Newsworks, Philly.com, PlanPhilly, The Notebook, Metropolis, TechnicallyPhilly and many others. These collaborations will only be enhanced by the grants recently announced by J-Lab supporting collaborative enterprise reporting efforts. In another field-building project, OMG, with support from the William Penn Foundation, sent 22 members of the local news and information community to Washington, DC last week to the ONA conference, where they learned cutting-edge reporting techniques and how to use technology in story development and distribution.
We’re submitting our findings to the William Penn Foundation to consider and will update you when there is more to report. Thanks as always for your interest in this work, and hope to have more for you soon.