Initiate a different “ask.” So far in the digital journalism world, we have asked people to be advertisers or to be subscribers. We have asked them to be donors or funders. We have asked them to be citizen journalists or poorly paid professional journalists. We have asked them to rate and share our stories.
We have not asked them to do something that might have more appeal: to be “media players”—media players who are charged with being good stewards of a robust local news and information landscape. It rang so true to me when Batavian editor Howard Owens explained, in “The Story So Far,” that many of his local advertisers don’t care about click-throughs, they just want to support the community. We’ve heard that from many startups.
What would such civic stewardship begin to look like? It could take the form of participating in a knowledge network—a series of events in which people meet and learn about civic issues, literary news, legislative priorities, and fun folks in town. It helps if your events generate some water-cooler chitchat.
Don’t laugh: The Texas Tribune has brought in more than $500,000 in event revenue in the last two years. Many of its events are now the place to be, and the Tribune is breaking news that others news organizations find they must cover.
Media players could also belong to statewide Journalism Trusts, donating funds, advice, and their non-journalism expertise (event production, anyone?) to foster robust news and information. Check out the early Vermont Journalism Trust.
Asking people to participate in ways that don’t require professional journalism skills helps re-channel energies and dampen concerns about authority or the accuracy of amateur journalists. And it gets a different kind of attention from prospective funders.
To be sure, the business of digital journalism gives us much to wring our hands about, as the Tow Center report attests. But having judged several journalism awards contests this year, I’m seeing some of the strongest entries coming from new journalism sites, not the traditional players. I’ve just finished vetting another 378 proposals from women media entrepreneurs; the ideas are enormously varied and the applicants’ skills run deep.
What I see missing from so many of the conversations about how we garner support for the future of journalism is the recognition of the low-hanging fruit growing in many communities—independent news entities that are going to continue to launch. We need more new thinking that validates and engages them in the overall enterprise.