Content Ninja's Weblog

An exploratory journey on the edge of newspaper evolution

Lost at sea? April 18, 2008

Filed under: innovation,journalism,newspapers,Uncategorized — contentninja @ 4:54 pm
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Brookgreen Gardens in Pawleys Island, South Carolina, United States.Image via Wikipedia

Here’s another one to watch.

Lisa Williams is founder of Placeblogger, a 2007 winner of the Knight 21st Century News Challenge, and of H20town. Williams is one smart cookie and a no-nonsense voice in the cacophony of voices surrounding social media, new media and the evolution of journalism. (Yes, I freely admit that I’m adding to the din.) She blogs at the MediaShift Idea Lab.

In “Journalism will Survive the Death of its Institutions,” she makes a solid comparison between what’s happening to the news industry and the volatility of the high-tech world. Difference is, she argues, that high-tech employees are kind of used to it.

She concludes that the savviest among us journalists will make it by branching out in “kayaks” as “Titanic” companies go down:

“You’ll discover what thousands upon thousands of tech workers discovered: you can do great work outside of an institutional, big-company context, and you can make a living doing so. High tech companies didn’t own innovation; the innovators did. News organizations don’t own journalism: journalists do.”

What’s the lesson for employees at a family-owned, independent company like Gazette Communications, which is fighting hard to avoid sinking? That innovation can start with you, the individual employee. That individual journalists can build communities around their beats and add value to our content.

And in “10 Things Journalists Should Know About Surviving in a High-Tech World,” her basic premise is that jobs are temporary, so build your skills. My favorite tip, however, is No. 6: “Breaking things is a privilege. Progress is about alternating breaking and fixing. Anything 100% working is 100% dead.”

Our industry definitely has some things that need fixing. Let’s make progress.

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3 Responses to “Lost at sea?”

  1. Right on, Content Ninja! Thanks for linking, and I love, love, love the name of your blog.

    I’ve written about the fact that I haven’t worked inside a big news organization, so I try to refrain from talking about what that’s like.

    What do you think the prospects are for “individual employee innovation” at, say, a chain owned paper?

    What kind of conditions make that possible for an individual journalist? I’d start with 1) a boss you know well, trust, who trusts you; 2) working in a newsroom where it is considered okay for journalists to touch and change the website, 3) some tech support to get started (somebody has to install the blog software).

    But what else?

  2. contentninja Says:

    Hi, Lisa. Randy Covington of the IFRA Newsplex has said that U.S. corporate chain newspapers are less progressive, and I’m sure he’s right. Innovating at the individual level is a struggle anywhere, but it would be especially challenging at a place where profit margins rather than survival might be the top concern.

    But your point about individuals buidling skill sets is reason enough for anyone to try. If you can’t turn the ship with grass-roots efforts, well, at least you’ve made yourself more marketable.

    I think your list is a great place to start for a newspaper that is not innovating at all yet. Once the blog software is loaded and one or two employees have been designated as the newsroom’s Web guys, what next?

    So I would add 4) evangelize concepts and socialize ideas. Ideally, you want innovation to spread throughout the company. Get blogging, and talk it up to other reporters. Once they start blogging, read them, comment, comment on their commenters. Get on Facebook and invite your co-workers. Get on Twitter and ask your sources and contacts to join you there. Share your social media success stories. “I found that source on Twitter!”

    Build relationships outside the newsroom and spread the goodness in other company departments, too. I was just talking yesterday to one of the guys in market research: “Have you thought about using the fans on The Gazette Facebook page as an informal focus group?”

    Will it work? I hope so. It’s the Internet model: viral at the community-level.

  3. contentninja Says:

    P.S. I say “you” here a lot, but I mean that as a plural, generic pronoun. :)

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