Networked Journalism Education

Archive for April, 2011

A shift in the tectonic plates of communication

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The pleasure of being late to David Cohn’s carnival party is the opportunity to reflect on what others have so beautifully written. What I see in these posts is a growing awareness that innovation in a networked environment is not the same as innovation in the mass media environment.

Lisa Williams knows that the future of journalism is small and Jan Schaffer knows that innovation is about relationships (and conventions and processes) more than tools and products. Paul Bradshaw advocates innovation that is quicker, smaller scale and more transparent. Mary Hamilton suggests more training, more partnerships (links) and more attention to the intersections. All four are writing about attributes of networks, not transmission media.

Alfred Hermida takes it further, concluding:

At the core of this shift in mindset is approaching journalism as a practice to be shared, rather than a profession to be defended.

This is exciting. We’re glimpsing a shift in the tectonic plates of communication. We’ve moving from one system to another and it has very practical implications in the design of innovation. The processes of the past don’t define success in the future.

My contribution to the carnival is to urge Knight, RJI and others to fund research. Not slow and ponderous research, but networked research processes that allow us to gather and organize the lessons, epiphanies, victories and failures of all the experiments that are flourishing around us. There are a lot of people doing a lot of interesting things. What do they know that we should know? What is succeeding? What is failing? How can people in one part of the network learn from those in other parts of the network?

We seem to be learning some lessons over and over. “Build it and they will come” is so obviously untrue and yet we keep funding projects that assume exactly that. We learn that things take longer than we expect but we hope they won’t. We start with an out-of-the-box content management system and end up in debt to custom coders. We know we should keep it simple and then we complicate it.

Successful innovators (even in small ways) could save the rest of us a lot of grief, if only we could find them when we need them. Designing more nimble, useful and applied research networks could help us harness the collective intelligence generated by the “Future of Journalism” community.

We need more doing and less talking, as Steve Fox points out, but we also need space to reflect on what we are learning, now, in a thousand ways. Jan Schaffer has done this at J-Lab and Jane Steven’s case studies from her RJI days are extremely valuable. I’m sure there are many other reports produced that together could teach us a lot.

What we need is practical, accessible and timely production, curation and aggregation by the research community. A little funding could go a long way in organizing a useful research community and reflective repository for lessons learned. In fact, including money for evaluation, assessment and reflection should be a part of every grant. We’ve already learned a lot. We’ve made it through the first phase of disruption; let’s build on what we’ve learned rather than continually starting over.

ADDENDUM: I’ve since thought of many good sources of research I didn’t mention in this post, including the work presented at the annual International Symposium on Online Journalism at the University of Texas, Austin. The papers are archived and the Twitter conversation is #isoj. An outstanding conference organized by Rosental Alves (@Rosental).

Written by Donica

April 1st, 2011 at 1:01 am