Creating momentum for innovation in journalism

Posted on September 01, 2010 by Janet Coats

So what did you do on your summer vacation?

I’ve spent mine working on an idea that has excited me, challenged me, frustrated me and given me hope that we can find new ways to create momentum for innovation in journalism.

After weeks living in radio silence about this project, I’m ready to start sharing the shape of it. It’s a work in progress, so it’s sure to continue to shift and change.

But first, a little background.

I spent much of last winter talking to people who care about journalism’s future. I talked to entrepreneurs, those who are out on their own finding paths for journalism in a digital age. I talked to those who are trying to invent new futures for existing news organizations. I talked to educators and those who fund journalism experimentation.

I heard one common theme: This is an exciting time for journalism, filled with possibilities for connection and storytelling in ways we once would have thought of as science fiction. But the sheer pace of innovation has created something akin to the “fog of war’’ – it is difficult, if not impossible, to see into what promising practices are emerging and how best to build momentum and support for them.

After hearing that over and over again, we decided at The Patterson Foundation that we should focus our efforts in the New Media Journalism Initiative on building an innovators network.

Just as we were thinking about what that would look like, I attended a gathering at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism. While there, I met Lisa Skube, who will be a fellow at the school’s Reynolds Journalism Institute this year.

The project she intended to pursue during that fellowship was startlingly familiar to me: it looked a lot my line of thinking about an innovators network, but was more fully developed.

After talking about our visions for the network, Lisa and I decided to work together on the project. And that’s what we’ve been doing all summer.

The network is still taking shape. Right now, we describe it as a “journalism accelerator,’’ a means of taking ideas that are bouncing around among a widely dispersed group of innovators and channeling them into a channel where they can be explored, tested and built upon. This way, an innovator in Seattle working on an idea for, say, new ways of building revenue for news sites can connect with someone working on a similar idea in Sarasota.

This week, I’m headed back to the University of Missouri to talk to graduate students, professors and fellows there about how the accelerator might work in practice. I’ll be sharing with you here some of the things I’m learning and thinking about during this trip.

Summer’s over, and I’m very excited about what I did on my vacation.

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