newsrooms

Community Engagement and Press Freedom: Building More Resilient and Sustainable Journalism

Next week I’ll be speaking at the Reynolds Journalism Institute for its five-year anniversary, which will focus on the next steps we need to take to sustain journalism.

The event organizers have outlined five critical areas for exploration, but there are two that I’ll focus the most attention on: press freedom and community engagement. For me, these two issues are deeply woven together in a participatory, networked fourth estate, and both are in a moment of terrific flux.

I have written previously that regardless of whether your business model relies on ads, paywalls or donors, journalism will rise and fall with its communities. Editor Melanie Sill argues that “we must reorder the fundamental processes of journalism toward the goal of serving communities.”

We need our communities to invest, fund and support our work, to share it and help it make an impact on the world. We need our communities to be sources, to give feedback, to help us report.

But we also need our communities to fight for our rights to gather and disseminate news, to access information, to assemble and speak freely. This has never been truer than it is now, when the threats to journalism are not just economic, but legal. (more…)

Misunderstanding Innovation and Fearing Failure

In what has now become a widely circulated blog post by Patrick Pexton, the ombudsman of The Washington Post, Pexton asks, “Is The Post innovating too fast?” Here is a smattering of points from the conclusion of his article:

 “I know from talking to folks in the newsroom that all the change may be exhausting the staff, too. Many of these innovations require considerable staff time, as well as more time from editors and reporters to monitor them… Staffers say that sometimes they feel as if the innovations are just tossed against a wall to see what sticks, without careful thought as to which of them will enhance and shore up The Post’s reputation and brand… I want The Post to continue to innovate. It’s important for the publication’s survival. Many of these changes are working… But there’s a time to press on the accelerator, and a time to ease off. Substance, clarity and direction will be more important in the long run than buzz. Take a breather lap, Post.”

I don’t know Pexton and I don’t know the inner-workings of the WaPo newsroom, but most of the people in my Twitter stream viewed Pexton’s post as at best bizarre and at worst a troubling sign for the Post’s long term relevance. However, it’s worth noting, Pexton does root his analysis in the concerns he is hearing from readers, and a news organization – whether it is innovating or stagnating – should listen to its readers.

But in this case, I don’t think the diagnosis, nor how it was delivered, fit the symptoms. (more…)