Thursday, March 31, 2011

Innovation outside of the bubble

(This post is part of the awesome Carnival of Journalism.)

Innovation is a tricky word. It’s tossed around journalism blogs and conferences with ease, but let’s get real here — true innovation is hard. 

This is not to make excuses for lackadaisical newsrooms or those who shun change. It’s a reality. You can have a great idea, see it through to reality and it still fails or lands with crickets.

So, I can only applaud Knight for what they’re doing with the News Challenge and what Reynolds is doing with their fellows. It’s tough to foster innovation and it’s tough to find time in a busy newsroom to even ponder innovation.

But I’m worried we’re innovating in a bubble. It’s not tech start-ups or even thought leaders who need help innovating. It’s figuring out how to do that at work, along with the day-to-day slug. (@grovesprof has it right there.)

I’m pretty sure we’ve all done this. You go to a conference. You get learn new things, you meet new people, think of new ideas and go back to work bursting with energy.

And then you have meetings to attend, stories to write or edit and problems to solve. Energy gone. Ideas lost to your indecipherable handwriting in a notebook somewhere in the pile of conference freebies.

This is where I think Knight and others have a chance to make a difference.

Two suggestions, one for each program.

1) Knight. More follow up. I’ve seen plenty of Knight News Challenge ideas get built and then….nothing. There is very little followup, seemingly and many projects either run out of steam or fail with little retrospective. It’s fine to fail, but let’s make sure that these ideas are creative in journalism and business. Sorry, revenue and/or business support needs to play more of a part. I surely don’t hand out my money without expectation for ROI, why should Knight?

2) Reynolds. Pair those amazing fellows with newsrooms who needs help. I’m looking at the Mozilla program here. Bring forces of change to newsrooms with these people. Have them pair with a participating news org and make their plans, blogs posts and thoughts into reality. 

So many newsrooms need energy. Innovation shouldn’t occur in dorm housing on a campus or in a apartment in Silicon Valley. Innovation needs to happen in the tranches.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Telling the public the truth: We don’t know anything

(This post of part of the wonderousness that is the Carnival of Journalism)

In the past few weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time working on KPCC’s new local site, OnCentral. In short, it’s a site covering a small swath of South LA, and we hope to release some aspects of community reporting in a few weeks.

When I talk to people about the site, I outline two ideas, that seem to align with a couple of Knight recommendations:

We know nothing

Journalists often drop in on a community and quickly announce, “Here I am! A journalist, to tell you how your community is, because I went to school and I know more than you do. I live across town, but it doesn’t matter.”

I know this because I used to be a city government reporter. I’ve realized that attitude is wrong. 

I don’t know anything. The only thing that makes me better is that while community members have jobs to get to and kids to raise, my job is to ask questions about their community. I will continue to know nothing without their help. 

This is why the site is going to allow the community to contribute to stories, not just contribute stories. They wil help us report stories better, because they know more. They live there and they live with the problems and successes of the neighborhood.

Reporting goes beyond the story

I anticipate holding community events, working with schools to tell stories and other things that take the story beyond the web site. 

This is a community that needs more than a news site, they need a gathering place. One of the first thingsI was told from a community member was “I don’t know what’s going on three blocks from me.” 

We’re going to try to fix that, online and off. More on this another time.

Trusting the community

So what do these ideas have to do with the topic at hand?

It’s about trust.

The question is what can we do to increase news sources? The answer is that we have always had more than enough sources, we’ve just never let them tell their story.

Let’s admit it, we’ve never trusted the public. We don’t think they are journalists, we don’t think they are ethical, etc etc. They could never tell a story as well as we could. They could never pore through documents or attend city council meetings like we do. Oh, no. We are *special*.

Even now, with citizen journalism gaining traction we still corral the public’s work onto a page you can’t find on the site or a separate place altogether. Why can’t we just look at the public we serve and tell them that we want to work with them?

Public media dips their toes into this now and again with call-in shows, but we need to go further.

When I tell people we are allowing the public to edit our stories, I tend to get a look of aghast. Fear. Distrust.

Yes, all submissions will be looked at by an editor. Yes, they will be fact-checked.

But I’m going to trust that the public wants their story told as much as I want to help them tell those stories.

We have to learn to accept the fact the we are as talented as the public that supports us. If they become sources of news with us, we can not only improve journalism, but we can give them more faith in what we do, because they’ll be part of it.