Facing the future

Clay Shirky has written a piece that is at once brilliant and devastating. In “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable,” Shirky argues, as I have, that we must uncouple the fate of journalism from the fate of the newspaper business as we know it. Only then can we start building a future that is more diverse, more chaotic but probably also more rich than what we know now.

Here’s how Shirkey sums up (but do read the entire piece):

“Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism. For a century, the imperatives to strengthen journalism and to strengthen newspapers have been so tightly wound as to be indistinguishable. That’s been a fine accident to have, but when that accident stops, as it is stopping before our eyes, we’re going to need lots of other ways to strengthen journalism instead.

“When we shift our attention from ’save newspapers’ to ’save society’, the imperative changes from ‘preserve the current institutions’ to ‘do whatever works.’ And what works today isn’t the same as what used to work.

“We don’t know who the Aldus Manutius of the current age is. It could be Craig Newmark, or Caterina Fake. It could be Martin Nisenholtz, or Emily Bell. It could be some 19 year old kid few of us have heard of, working on something we won’t recognize as vital until a decade hence. Any experiment, though, designed to provide new models for journalism is going to be an improvement over hiding from the real, especially in a year when, for many papers, the unthinkable future is already in the past.

“For the next few decades, journalism will be made up of overlapping special cases. Many of these models will rely on amateurs as researchers and writers. Many of these models will rely on sponsorship or grants or endowments instead of revenues. Many of these models will rely on excitable 14 year olds distributing the results. Many of these models will fail. No one experiment is going to replace what we are now losing with the demise of news on paper, but over time, the collection of new experiments that do work might give us the reporting we need.”


Social media strategy for news organizations

In addition to writing the News Leadership 3.0 blog for Knight Digital Media Center, I help develop training programs aimed at leaders of news organizations who are trying to make the transformation from print to multi-platform journalism. In past years, we’ve convened top editors and their online chiefs to spend four days at the center at the University of Southern California working with experts to develop strategies for transformation. Here is my report on KDMC’s 2008 conference.

This year, we’re taking a different tack, and I’m the lead program developer so my sense of adventure and opportunity is in full swing!

First, the program will focus on social media — why are new tools and practices valuable to established news organizations, how can they implement them and what will be the financial rewards?

As I’ve noted over on the leadership blog, news organizations seem painfully slow to adapt these practices — either finding more readers on sites such as Facebook or adopting social practices on their own news Web sites. At the same time, adults of all ages are flocking to the networks.

We want to help news leaders — editors as well as publishers — understand how social networks tap into a new audience dynamic and how these networks can help them reach larger audiences,  measure those audiences and use those measurements to provide value for advertisers.

Second, we’re going to conduct much of the training online and make it available to a larger audience — there will be at least three Webinars this spring in partnership with News University. A smaller group of participants will be selected to receive additional training and coaching online so they can develop a project for their news site. They’ll be invited to work with experts in Los Angeles next summer as they prepare to launch their social media projects. Here is the program announcement for News Leadership 2009.

Third, we will invite the top editor and either the publisher or top revenue manager from up to 10 news organizations to be part of the more intensive training program that culminates in the summer conference. In the past, we’ve invited the top editor and the top online editor. Valuable as that has been, we believe that having the editorial side and the business side learn about new media practices and opportunities together will help assure success of their projects.

If you have any suggestions for our program, please share them in the comments. And stay tuned for updates here and on the Knight Digital site..

Six competencies of next generation news organizations

Here’s my latest post for Leadership 3.0 at Knight Digital Media Center:

Media Management Center presentation outlines jobs for news providers of the next generation of news (which is here now)


I sat in on a Webinar by the Media Management Center at Northwestern University this week. Annette Moser-Wellman presented in information-rich outline of “Six Competencies of the Next Generation News Organization.”

Moser-Wellman’s list provides a great blueprint for organizations that are looking beyond the next round of cutbacks to becoming an organization that can thrive five years from now. To set the stage, Moser-Wellman gave an overview of just-around-the-corner technologies. She gave particular emphasis on the growing role of mobile in virtually everything we do, including the way we consume media and the way advertising finds us.

Here’s my shorthand version of her list of roles for the next-gen news organization:

1. Platform strategist. Know the platforms, know the players, know how users consume information and what content works best where. Start by looking at what people need and develop strategies to meet those needs.
2. Marketer. It’s all about establishing your brand by showing how your content is different and targeting information to specific groups.
3. Community builder. The traditional role of the news organization in a community is changing online. It requires the ability to connect people with like interests and to engage them in news gathering.
4. Data miner. Organizations must build capacity to store, access and retrieve information through meta data such as tagging. Organizations can develop new revenue streams by repackaging information in different ways. Semantic technology on the horizon will increase the potential for properly tagged content to find interested users.
5. Complete storyteller. Communication is becoming more visual, as evidenced by maps and timelines and interactives that report news and put it in context.
6. Entrepreneur. News organizations must operate in a selling environment. “News organizations will need to figure out what the end consumer is going to want and what they are willing to pay for.”

Read more here.


“Mixed messages” in the newsroom

From my latest post for my Leadership 3.0 blog at Knight Digital Media Center:

“Mixed messages” from leaders hold back organizations. Adoption of clearer, more consistent message is one of the ways leaders can unleash tremendous potential that’s just waiting for clear direction. Improving communication can foster collaboration. Newsrooms need collaboration more than ever. The assembly line model of print production must give way to a more dynamic, multitasking organization.

Read the full post here.