Advice when considering journalism’s future: Think Small

Posted on April 06, 2011 by Janet Coats

There are so many good and provocative thinkers writing about journalism right now that it can be hard to keep up.

That’s why I look forward to the monthly Carnival of Journalism. This gives me the chance to see what a whole crew of smart folks are thinking on a single focused topic. I usually spend the better part of a week feeding my brain with what I learn here.

Adding to the fun is that the current Carnival organizer is David Cohn, founder of Spot.Us and one of our early thought-leaders for The Patterson Foundation.

For the uninitiated, a blog carnival is an aggregation of posts in which the writers all address a specific topic in their own blogs. One organizer then pulls together the links to those blogs and generally writes a summary of the posts. See Wikipedia’s definition here if you want to know more about how blog carnivals work.

The most recent Carnival of Journalism focused on a topic close to our hearts here at The Patterson Foundation: Driving innovation. Specifically, writers were asked to focus on how the Knight Foundation and the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri should shape their work in order to more effectively enable innovation.

At TPF, we have had the advantage of starting with a blank slate as we look for ways to enable journalism innovation. And we’ve had the additional advantage of being able to do a lot of learning – from the work of Knight and Reynolds, from journalism entrepreneurs and educators and those who’ve tried to push innovation within traditional organizations.

We’re still learning and we’ve stumbled a time or two. We’re now working on two tracks – helping to enable networks that allow innovators to connect and looking at ways to build financial and journalistic sustainability. I’m absorbing all I can from smart thinkers to help us shape that work to be effective, collaborative and inclusive.

As we move forward, I’ll be looking often at the post that Lisa Williams, founder of, wrote for the Carnival of Journalism. Her post, called “The Future is Small,’’ provides very focused tips for those of us thinking about our role in enabling innovation.

Lisa’s hypothesis, which I think is a very good one, is that the future of journalism is “a tale of smaller and smaller organizations making a bigger and bigger impact.’’ And she advises those of us working with foundations and other organizations interested in enabling innovation to devise a strategy for making decisions in the absence of crucial information – there is a world of possibility and no one knows what is going to work.

Finally, Lisa offers very practical and succinct advice about where to focus efforts to help these smaller and smaller organizations destined to have big impact:

• Provide training so that entrepreneurs can develop the skills they need across a range of competencies

• Provide connection, so that innovators can share both their successes and their failures

• Provide access to the infrastructure that those in big organizations, with their legal counsel and human resources departments, take for granted.

Ultimately, the best advice Lisa may offer in her post is this: “Avoid big bets. In a world where there are countless potential winners, your chances of picking one are very small.’’

I intend to keep that guidance in mind as we move forward with our work in two of Lisa’s suggested areas of focus – providing training and enabling connection. It’s good to remember that we’re working in a world of almost limitless possibility – and it is good to remember that is a very exciting thing.

  • Learn about these and other concepts used in TPF's approach to philanthropy.


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