The Anatomy of a News Startup

September seems to be the month of the startup. The Voice of San Diego just began taking the wraps of their new resource center for community-based and nonprofit journalism, “The Hub.” It’s just getting started, but already includes a wealth of lessons and resources. Along those lines, Brad Flora of Windy Citizen, posted “5 Mistakes That Make Local Blogs Fail” over at the PBS Idea Lab. Meanwhile, Paul Biggar compiled his own list of lessons learned from NewsTilt, which failed just two months after it launched. Finally, the New York Times reported that Jeff Jarvis will be announcing the creation of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at CUNY. The center will essentially offer a master of arts for prospective journalism startups. In addition to those headlines and blog posts, there are also two key events happening this month that shine a spotlight on news startups: Georgetown University’s “The Anatomy of a News Startup” and the Block by Block conference.

At the Georgetown event last week Jim Brady the founder and general manager of TBD and Matt Thompson of NPR’s new Project Argo, both of which have launched in the last two months, discussed what it took to get their projects off the ground. The conversation avoided most of the usual future of journalism tropes: there was no “who’s a journalist” questions, no desperate warnings about journalism’s downfall or overly rosy pictures of journalism’s future, there was no discussion of which new gadget would save journalism. Instead, the panel focused on the very concrete nuts and bolts of developing, launching, and maintaining a new web-first newsroom. Both Brady and Thompson addressed these topics with a pragmatic emphasis on the daily life of working journalists.

What did they count as the most important lessons so far? Continue reading


Rebuilding Journalism By Rebuilding Trust

Last week, after much of the mainstream media worked itself into frenzy covering every angle of the Quran-burning story and the controversy over the proposed New York City Islamic community center, there was a moment of reflection in the press.

Journalists began investigating their own roles in fanning the fires of the controversies they were trying to cover. Memos swirled through newsrooms at the New York Times, Fox, and the AP discussing how to handle the story.

On NPR, Brooke Gladstone discussed the media’s coverage of the Quran-burning story. She said, “The problem for journalists was that in this political season, the story grew like a snowball rolling down a hill, and we have to take some responsibility for pushing it.” Over at the Poynter Institute, journalism ethics blogger Kelly McBride wrote, “One of the great flaws of modern journalism is the preference for dramatic developments and pithy commentary over context.” Continue reading

Journalism Debates Here and Abroad

I recently had the good fortune to talk at length with Sven Egil Omdal, a journalist from Norway who is in the US on a sabbatical and is studying journalism’s digital transition. We talked about newspaper economics, new models and experiments, the future of public media and the role of public policy. I was intrigued by the similarities and the differences in how this debate is unfolding in Scandinavia as compared to the US.

In an article he wrote earlier this year, Omdal describes a series of government inquiries in Denmark and Norway examining journalism’s digital future. In many ways they mirror the proceedings currently underway at the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission here in the United States. Omdal writes, “The entire state media support system is up for revision and is likely to be subjected to a complete restructuring. The department for culture set up a committee in 2009 under the leadership of former state secretary Yngve Sletholm and is to present suggestions for future media support by the end of 2010,” roughly the same timeline as the FCC and FTC inquiries. Continue reading

Journalism and Active Citizenship

In a recent interview in The Economist Jay Rosen talked about the intersection of journalism and personal agency. He said, “journalists should describe the world in a way that helps us participate in political life.” Were I to rewrite that line I might have said “civic” life. Last year, in a post over at MIT’s Center for Future Civic Media Ellen Hume wrote, “My bottom line has always been: how can people understand their real choices for shaping their own lives and communities? How can the flow of news actually promote personal and community agency? This is why the future of journalism and civic media are important to me.”

I have been excited to see the way so many independent, public and new online newsrooms are thinking about journalism and community engagement in this way. A few months back I charted how this idea is built into the mission statements of a number of new news organizations. At the time I lamented that fact that this kind of community engagement seemed to be lacking from so many commercial newsrooms. However, since I wrote that post one notable new commercial online newsroom has been embracing its role as a civic instigator. Continue reading

What the Arcade Fire’s Wilderness Downtown Experiment Can Teach Journalism

The Arcade Fire just teamed up with Google for an incredible new kind of music video that isn’t just about introducing people to new music, but also introducing people to a new way of experiencing the web. The project – dubbed “The Wilderness Downtown” – is a multi-modal, multi-browser, personalized, music video that was built to showcase the HTML5 web standard.

I’m not a programmer, and I can’t give you a run down of HTML5, but I can tell you that this video is one of those moments that reinstates a sense of awe into web browsing. It is an example of just how powerful the web can be, and points at some important lessons about where media online is headed. If you haven’t visited “The Wilderness Downtown” yet. Go. Now. I’ll wait.

So what might “The Wilderness Downtown” suggest for the future of media and journalism online? Continue reading