One of the key underlying questions at a number of sessions at today’s start of a four-day annual meeting of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication in Denver was:
How can we save journalism?
The answer from Prof Larry Dailey, multimedia guru at U. of Nevada -Reno speaking on a panel called Breaking the Mold, was simple:
Forget about it. Instead, think about ways to save the roles journalism has played in democracy.
Dailey, who must be among the first j profs in the country to teach a journalism class in Innovation, touted Harvard prof Clay Christensen’s ideas about disruptive innovation, popularized in The Innovator’s Dilemma, as a lens for considering the journalism industry’s decline.
Successful businesses, driven by stockholder’s demands, stick with routines and the competencies developed to efficiently carry them out, and this inevitably leads to inflexibility and failure as the nimble innovator races between their legs, so to speak. Think music industry and Napster.
What the journalist of the future needs, then, is an ability to think creatively, to come up with new ideas, to learn to start out with what Dailey dubs “a crappy prototype” that might lead to a real innovation — or might not.
Other panelists included:
Mississippi’s Samir Husni “Mr Magazine” who emphasized creating experiences for audiences, citing examples from magazine covers that ranged from scratch and sniff to 3D to an audience favorite: peel the clothes from a cover boy. (Doesn’t take much to excite a bunch of middle-aged professors.)
Minnesota’s Nora Paul who discussed their Knight News Challenge-funded project that aimed to create an online game about Ethanol to see if a play format would attract and better inform audiences. The answer: um, not really. Er, sounds like idea that ran out of gas?
Ball State’s Jennifer George-Palilonis discussed cross-campus projects pulling together multiple departments and colleges to create innovative online media and mobile apps.
Trends from the 2010 IRE conference (Part 1):
Roll your own
One of the hottest new trends is to start your own non-profit investigative center. There must of been nearly a dozen centers or outfits that partner with them from the New England Center for Investigative Reporting to InvestigateWest to California Watch to the George Clooney of this “Ocean’s Eleven” (conference was in Vegas): ProPublica. There’s even an Investigative News Network representing 32 such groups.
Journalists are learning to write grants, court funders and still be afloat once the startup honeymoon ends and somebody’s gotta pay the rent. They’re talking about collaborations with other news outlets, non-journalism non-profits and universities. [Note to center starters: State universities, at least in California, do not have a bunch of extra employees who can provide free staffing for your center. We can, however, share our bad coffee with you.]
Rocky Mountain Investigative News Network‘s Laura Frank advised journalists starting a center to start small so if they fail, they don’t fall so far; identify multiple revenue streams (e.g., grants, partnerships, underwriting and services); and have a purpose (mission statement) up front.
The Berkman Center‘s David Ardia warned journalists to cover their asses legally (investigative reporting = lawsuits) and form a Limited Liability Company (LLC) or some other sort of legally recognized structure that separates your personal assets from the center’s.
No surprise then that the conference keynoter was Vivian Schiller, the CEO of the one organization with the greatest experience in this sort of journalism: NPR, which has prioritized investigative journalism lately.
Other centers, foundations and/or organizations showing them some love on the conference schedule: