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The Changing News and Information Ecosystem: What Can You Do?

How can you contribute to a healthy journalism ecosystem?

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Picture a news and information ecosystem that not only informs, but also engages, inspires, and activates.  Imagine journalism that helps us navigate through uncertainty, contextualizing conflict and struggle within aspirations and hope.

Envision telling stories of possibility, highlighting diverse voices, using diverse forms, and engaging with each other around them.

How do we do it?

Journalism is no longer a spectator sport. Whether you are a journalist, an educator, a technologist, or a member of the public, get involved in creating a news and information ecosystem that meets the needs of communities and democracy.

The dominant narrative of how we organize to get stuff done is shifting from hierarchies to networks. No longer just from the top, change happens when people take responsibility for what they love. So join a hub of activity, as many are already doing.  Or link people and organizations to each other. Journalism That Matters (JTM) aspires to be a learning hub for connecting journalism innovators.  So tell JTM about what you’re doing by commenting below and join the conversation.

If you’re not sure where to begin, I offer some ideas:

Learn about change.  We live in interesting times.  Disruption is a normal part of the landscape.  The more each of us understands change, the better equipped we are to work with it. Resources abound! My book, Engaging Emergence: Turning Upheaval into Opportunity is one roadmap.

Seek possibilities.  Turn deficit into possibility by asking questions that uncover hopes and aspirations.  Questions like: given what’s happening, what’s possible now?  Or what’s the best possible outcome from this situation?

Many people focus on what they can’t do, what the problems are, what isn’t possible. When someone says, “The problem is x,” ask, “What would it look like if it were working?” If someone says, “I can’t do that,” ask, “What would you like to do?”

Invite others to join you.  You can have more fun and help each other grow into the habit of asking possibility-oriented questions. Over time it will change the nature and quality of our discourse.

Engage. There’s something for everyone in the emerging media landscape. Take a course in media literacy.  Or teach one.

If you are a journalist, remember: engagement is essential for journalism to be relevant and trusted in the digital world. Take the TAO of journalism pledge to be Transparent, Accountable, and Open. Check out resources on engagement at J-Lab, including the 2012 Report on Engaging Audiences.  The Poynter Institute has a variety of articles about engagement.  Or take a look at the ideas in my earlier post on engagement.

If you are not a journalist and you have a story to tell, do so.  Whether text, audio, video, or other media, provide content for a news outlet, your own blog, or social media.  If writing isn’t for you, find media that cover places and issues that matter to you and jump in. Point family, friends, and groups that you are part of to stories that you think make a difference.

Use social media, like Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest and Facebook, to discuss stories with friends and strangers. Or to share what you learn about using social media.  Comment on stories that move you. Organize around them.  If fact, learn about hosting conversations. The National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation is a great resource for practices and people.

In other words, whatever your roles in the ecosystem, make media, share it, and use it.

Invite diversity.  We spend so much of our time with people like ourselves!  Whenever you engage with media, notice who else needs to be involved and speak up. Reach out. Support media makers who tell stories that incorporate diverse perspectives. And remember, if you wish to engage with people from a different age, race, culture, etc., go to them. Be humble. Listen. Learn. They are more likely to join with you if they see that you are interested in a respectful partnership.

Ultimately, these actions are not just about the quality of our news and information. They are about cultivating societies that are compassionate, creative, and wise. Able to deal with whatever complexities come our way. Each of us has a role to play. So step in.

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Read the other posts in this series:

The Possibility Principle

The Engagement Principle

The Diversity Principle

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Journalism for Navigating Uncertainty: The Diversity Principle

Innovation demands diversity, using our differences creatively.

I was speaking with an African-American colleague about the news. Growing up in an economically disadvantaged part of Los Angeles, the stories never reflected his reality. So he never developed a news habit.

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His story points to a key aspect of diversity — diversity of voice. The Maynard Institute’s Fault Lines consider race, class, gender, generation and geography. Religion and political persuasion, the roles we play and our different world views are also dimensions of diverse voice.

In the context of news and information that serves communities and democracy, diversity of form and funding also play a role.  More on them shortly.

Why Diversity of Voice?

If you want innovation, engage the diversity of people in a system. The usual suspects tend to have the same conversation and reach the same conclusions.  In the U.S., traditional media has never reflected the public’s diversity. The American Society of News Editors (ASNE) 2013 census showed 12% of newsroom employees are of color when, according to Wikipedia, the minority population is 28%. Emerging media is creating a similar demographic mix. J-Lab’s 2009 database of new media makers identified about 10% of foundation money – a principle funding source for new ventures – went to those focused on communities of color. That funding mix merits changing!

Journalism that helps us understand multiple perspectives on complex issues helps us navigate through them. Welcoming conditions and possibility-oriented questions set the stage for diversity that sparks creativity. Action is easier because no one needs to be “sold.” Everyone can find themselves in the desired outcomes and works to realize them. For example, the Oakland Tribune is discovering a new relationship with its audience through Oakland Voices, which trains residents as citizen journalists.

In system change, a turning point occurs when we see how we fit together as a whole. We begin to operate as a social body, using differences to discover solutions none could create on their own.

Consider a sports stadium for experiencing many angles. The scoreboard shows the state of play. Cameras spotlight action on the field and in the audience. Television extends reach. Statistics online let professional commentators and ordinary people put activities in perspective. Immersed, we understand the experience from many perspectives.

Imagine journalism that makes the state of the economy, education, or a war that visible. What if we could see how different populations, ages, functions, ethnicities look at it? Shared goals and aspirations emerge along with increased willingness to hear other perspectives. Compassion deepens. We become creative partners to reach wiser answers to the challenges of a complex world.

 

Why Diversity of Form?

Beyond newspapers, radio, and TV, social media, like Twitter and Facebook, are growing forms of distribution. Smart phones and tablets create new opportunities for how we get news. Less obvious forms for sharing stories include comedy, video games, and hip-hop.

These forms reach people who opt out of traditional news sources. In 2012, Pew Research Center found the Colbert Report and The Daily Show were the most watched news shows for those under 30. As in the days when troubadours brought news to town, Jasiri X raps the news. Using an editor to fact check stories, he reaches an audience most newspapers never will.

American Public Media (APM), content provider to National Public Radio stations, developed an online game, Budget Hero, to balance the federal budget. The game educates players on the consequences of their choices. With participant demographic data, APM can report on perspectives across the spectrum of age, geography, political party, and other dimensions. Isn’t that an exciting basis for a conversation?

Not every form is great for every type of story. Yet each form has something to contribute to the larger discourse. Imagine the role that Twitter would have played had it existed when Watergate was unfolding. To engage a wider diversity of voices, consider emerging forms.

 

Why Diversity of Funding?

With advertising waning, who will pay for quality content? Numerous experiments, including subscription services, pay walls, co-ops, member donations, and government funding are all being tested.

When journalism provides the news and information we need to be free and self-governing through engagement, a possibility orientation, and a diversity of voices using a diversity of forms, the public will fund journalism in ways that no one has yet envisioned.

So how do we get to such a state? While I have an answer, I know something about the path. Join me next time to explore this question. But first, here are a few tips on working with diversity.

 

Tips on Diversity

  • Be curious. A desire to know, to learn, to be open to the unknown prepares us to engage with difference.
  • Clarify intention. Why go to the trouble unless there is something you value? Intention—purpose—acts as a compass, setting direction while you travel in the wilderness.
  • Consider who/what makes up the system. What functions, constituencies, or roles are involved? What mix of race, class, gender, geography, and generation is important?
  • Go where people different from you live and work. Be humble. Listen. Learn. Reach out. Show that you are interested in partnership.
  • Invite others. Complex challenges require us all.  Reach out to those who ARE IN — with Authority, Resources, Expertise, Information, and Need. People notice different aspects of a situation. With a shared intention, more eyes and ears, hearts and minds, increase the chances of uncovering the gems.
  • Take a risk.  New outcomes come from new actions.  By definition, that involves the unknown.
  • Say “yes” and welcome what comes. Working with the unexpected increases the likelihood of creative outcomes.
  • Expect messiness. Difference brings disruptions. Use them creatively by working through issues that surface. It prepares you for increasing scale and scope.
  • Develop equanimity. Being calm in a storm increases the likelihood of surviving and bringing others with you.

 

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Reflections on last week’s post: The Engagement Principle

Mike Fancher, retired Executive Editor, Seattle Times and Journalism That Matters board member, offered a resource: Participatory Journalism: Guarding Open Gates at Online Newspapers by Jane Singer and others. He said the authors spoke to the idea of “people inside and outside the newsroom communicating not only to, but with, one another.”

Check out the comment from Kevin Fleming, Master’s Student in Mass Public Communications and Technology at Colorado State University, at An Expanded Purpose for Journalism. He writes about the potential for newspaper involvement in deliberative engagement with the public.

I asked people to respond to what makes something newsworthy in a word or phrase.  Via Twitter and LinkedIn, you told me.  In a Wordl, here’s what you said:

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Journalism for Navigating Uncertainty: The Engagement Principle

Engagement increases respect, appreciation, and partnership between journalists and communities.

NewsEco-Journalism-as_croppedIn 1775, the American Revolution launched an experiment in engagement called “democracy”. That sparked a critical need for an informed public and ignited a mass literacy movement.

Today’s technological wonders are generating a “media literacy” movement that is fueling a new level of engagement. Journalism is no longer a one-way communication from journalist to audience. It is a conversation. News and information is created, published, curated, used, archived, influenced and more by anyone.  And many use social media to communicate and make meaning from news and information with friends, family, interest groups, and strangers.

As the founders knew when they shaped the First Amendment to guarantee free speech and a free press, engagement is essential to democracy and to vibrant community life. As Reynolds Journalism Institute Fellow, Mike Fancher, puts it, public trust grows through public engagement.

The Lawrence Journal World’s WellCommons.com, is a great example. Its chief architect, Jane Ellen Stevens invited the public to help define it.  According to Stevens, they set a goal to be the go-to place for news and information on health and wellbeing in the region. Half of the content comes from community members and half from professional reporters. The site has changed the community’s conversation about health and caused a more solutions-focused style of reporting.

Like many other professions, journalists are renegotiating their roles and responsibilities as professionals. Among the new roles: community hosts, data wranglers, and beat bloggers. Consider some shifts in who provides content:

NewsEco-Journalist-as_croppedPersonal storytelling. Schools, libraries, and even journalism organizations are teaching skills to the public to help them discern quality, reliable content and to support people in creating their own stories. For example, through the “Living Textbook”, Arab American seventh graders learn journalism skills and tell stories about identity and how they see the world.

Community and organizational storytelling. With fewer professional journalists, communities and organizations are taking charge of their stories.  For example, the Colorado Health Foundation created the Colorado KaleidosCOpe, a “statewide storytelling campaign designed to shine a bright light on the good work of our grantee partners and the people whose lives they impact.”

Professional journalistic storytelling. Professionals still contextualize, deepen and amplify stories.  They can tell complex stories that take dedicated research and do the analysis and communication to help tackle tough subjects. They can help us make sense of the overwhelming amounts of information by showing us patterns and trends that shape society.

Because of these shifting roles and cultural changes, both journalists and the public they serve are asking a key question:

What is newsworthy? 

No longer solely controlled by journalists, how shall we –journalists and the public – discern what stories are critical for our communities and democracy? Journalists want to be relevant and trusted. The public wants important and trustworthy information. Imagine a full partnership: journalism of, by and for the people. That requires engagement.  The principles that follow speak to how to make that happen, where you are in the system.

Tips for Engaging

Whether online or in face-to-face conversations, some strategies to remember:

  • Invite the people who care about the issue, then welcome who and what shows up.
  • Ask real questions — meaningful ones for which you don’t know the answers and are genuinely curious.
  • Make it simple and easy to get involved. Consider accessibility. In person, handle parking and daycare.  Online, be crisp, brief, and able to participate with one click.
  • Make it fun. We’re more creative and collaborative when having a good time.  In person, have food.
  • Make space for individual expression and connection with others. We all crave to be authentic and to belong.  Support both.
  • Work in cycles. Offer context and a question. Invite a response.  Feedback or reflect together on what you learn, likely triggering another cycle.
  • Treat disruptors with compassion and respect while being firm and clear about appropriate behavior.  They likely have something important to contribute but lack the skills to communicate it.  Welcome the message while handling bad behavior.

Just as engagement is key for successful system change, diversity fuels innovation and a sense that we’re all in it together.  Stay tuned for more in the next post.

In the spirit of sparking engagement: enter a word or phrase on how you decide what is newsworthy in the comments below.

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Journalism for Navigating Uncertainty: The Possibility Principle

Journalism can help us envision and move towards a world that works for all.

Journalists have a unique role as storytellers, influencing the cultural narrative that weaves society together. Through my work in organizations, I know that when the stories people tell about the organization change, so does the culture.  The same holds true on the scale of a society.

JTMNW-Jan2010-Day4-1_Conf-Close-outcomes-cropPossibility-oriented stories generate new options. Research on the relationship between positive image and positive action by David Cooperrider, Case Western Reserve University professor of Social Entrepreneurship shows that we create what we can imagine.  Uncovering possibilities feeds our imagination, which is key to journalism that informs and also engages, inspires, and activates.

Though much of our current narrative is filled with stories that increase polarization, journalism educators and professional journalists are re-thinking dualistic — us versus them — models of storytelling.  Even investigative journalism, with its gotcha reputation, is increasingly including solutions.  InvestigateWest, a nonprofit investigative news organization born when the Seattle Post-Intelligencer closed, includes solutions as part of its approach.  Their groundbreaking story on the hazards of chemotherapy exposure for health care workers resulted in passing two laws improving worker safety in Washington state.  According to Rita Hibbard, executive director at the time, what made the difference were the possible solutions in the story.

This story demonstrates that even when the situation seems dire, other storylines are possible. In fact, conflict and struggle placed in a larger context become challenges to overcome rather than reasons to despair. They spark creativity and innovation.

Possibility-oriented storytelling brings journalism into the heart of community life, and supports a vibrant democracy. J-Lab executive director, Jan Schaffer, highlighted several examples in a Nieman Journalism Lab article.  Journalism That Matters gave the idea a practical twist by building on the traditional journalistic questions of who, what, when, where, why, and how, suggesting a sixth “w”: What’s possible now?

News organizations have emerged that are committed to a possibility-oriented perspective.  YES! Magazine has been at it since 1996.  Axiom News is of a similar age.  Both are growing. What’s Good 206 involves youth in telling stories of compassion and success.  David Bornstein’s weekly Fixes column in the New York Times explores solutions to major social problems.  And Bornstein’s newly formed Solutions Journalism Network is committed to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems.

Tips for Telling Possibility-oriented Stories

I offer a few pointers gathered from those who have been at it for a while:

  • Turn a problem into a possibility by asking: What might it look like if things were working?
  • Ask questions to discover the best of what is, to imagine what’s possible, to uncover ideas, and to spark action.
  • Cover what’s already happening to improve a situation.
  • Provide “handles” for audience to learn more or to get involved, for example, pointing to resources and organizations.
  • Report on new ways that are struggling to be born with the same attention and rigor as on what is dying.
  • Tell stories that present alternatives to dominant beliefs about “how things are”.
  • Turn victims into protagonists, for example, by following a story those affected make sense of their experience.
  • Make the system visible.  A vs. B stories miss the complexity of interactions involved.  Making nuances that transcend sides visible can bring about unlikely partnerships.
  • Invite audience to offer ideas about what they see as possible and what actions they will take to make it so.

Possibility-oriented storytelling feeds a cultural narrative that helps us to navigate uncertainty by focusing attention on creative ways forward.  Another critical complement for equipping us to be free and self-governing rests in engaging the diversity of people who care about an issue. The next post sheds some light on engagement.

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Follow up on last week’s post, An Expanded Purpose for Journalism

Email was still the primary vehicle of choice for responding, though Facebook also brought some comments.  Jane Stevens, Founder, editor of ACEsTooHigh.com, offered the example of WellCommons, Lawrence Journal-World’s local social journalism health site.  I’ll be saying more about the award-winning WellCommons in the next post in this series.  So stay tuned!

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An Expanded Purpose for Journalism

What does a re-vitalized, economically viable journalism that meets the needs of communities and democracies look like? 

Imagine a news organization that invites the public to become sources to “add context, depth, humanity, and relevance” to news stories.”  That’s what American Public media is doing through its Public Insight Network.  In Cleveland, Rita Andolsen left her news director job at WKYC-TV to become the station’s director of advocacy and community initiatives.  Now she hosts community conversations and looks for issues where this commercial station can ethically advocate on behalf of the community to improve the city and its neighborhoods. Or what about publishing a series making visible the widening economic and social gap between minorities and whites in the state and then convening statewide conversations to do something about it?  Laura Frank, executive director of the I-News Network in Colorado, led the way through “Losing Ground.”  (Crockett, 2013).

These examples of involving the public before, during, and after stories are published demonstrate an expanded purpose for journalism.  Not just informing, they also engage, inspire, and activate the public to create solutions. They help to recast attitudes of frustration, anger, and despair by calling forth resilience, curiosity and determination.  Journalism becomes a system that involves journalists and the public in shifting cultural narratives about what’s possible.

Drawn below as a framework for thinking holistically about journalism, telling the story is part of a system of interactions that help us to navigate through uncertainty.  This model emerged from a conversation that I had with Tom Atlee, founder of the Co-Intelligence Institute when he attended JTM’s 2008 New Pamphleteers conference in Minneapolis.

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A System of Purposes for Journalism, Tom Atlee

 

I spoke with Mike Fancher, retired executive editor of the Seattle Times, asking how such a model might have influenced the way the Times did its work.  He began by saying that the newspaper did all of these functions to some extent.  What excited him about this framework was that it treated journalism as a system.

He mentioned a story of a state crime lab that documented cases of innocent people going to jail and guilty ones going free because of system problems at the lab.  It was an important story that did its job of informing the public.  Yet nothing happened.  Mike reflected that traditionally, journalists don’t feel any obligation to help make something happen.

“With a more holistic approach, we probably would have built in elements that were move effective at motivating, mobilizing, inspiring and activating.”

This type of journalism could provide the public with the agency to work together to ask more complex questions about our prevailing cultural narratives such as: Who decides whether our systems – education, health care, governance — meet our needs? What do such systems look like? How do we create them?

Our society faces a dynamic tension.  An old media system that we understood, whether satisfied with it or not, is declining.  A new ecosystem filled with experiments and unanswered questions about how it operates and who and what to pay attention to, is emerging. Journalism organizations that work holistically with their communities are building authenticity and trust, moving beyond serving consumers to creating people and communities in action.

Such a journalism ecosystem requires changes in mindsets, skills, and activities.  Based on my work in organizational systems, I offer three keys in cultivating such a system: possibility-oriented storytelling, engaged constituencies, and diversity, in voices, forms, and funding. I’ll explore one of these each week over the next three weeks.

 

Got something to contribute?

A story?  A question?  A resource? A comment? In the spirit of JTM’s aspiration to be a go-to place for connecting people involved with the emerging news and information ecosystem, join in. You can:

Unless you explicitly request otherwise, I will post comments sent via any of the above in the comment space on this page.

Also, several of you asked if it was okay to share these posts.  Please do spread the word!

 

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Follow up on last week’s post, What do we need from journalism?

Most respondants emailed me.  Some replied via Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+.  Responses came from the U.S., the Netherlands, Korea, Brazil, Jordan, and Israel. Tom Atlee was inspired to post an article: Journalism to Energize Citizen Deliberative Democracy.  An Israeli journalist offered a story that I hope to share soon.  Wout-Jan Koridon suggested The Intelligent Optimist (formerly ODE Magazine) as an example.  My favorite comment came from Detroit-based information architect and Journalism That Matters alumni Mary Ann Chick Whiteside, who said: “Interesting idea to put hope as a benchmark of good journalism.” More of what you offered can be found here.

 

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