Journalism Accelerator builds momentum for collaboration

Posted on December 15, 2011 by Janet Coats

Part of what makes working in news so seductive is the instant gratification factor.

There aren’t many jobs where you see the impact of your work so quickly. Every day, sometimes several times a day, you publish your work and the community responds to it.

That has been one of the biggest adjustments for me in the work I’ve been doing as part of the New Media Journalism Initiative. For the last two years, we’ve been building our work incrementally, learning as we go. Sometimes, when you are working to build something new, from scratch, it is hard to tell whether you are making any progress at all.

But this week, I’ve had the yardstick out, and I’ve been measuring. And I can say with some assurance that, when it comes to our original goal of finding new ways for journalism’s innovators to connect and share, we most definitely have progress to report.

I’ve written many times about our work with Lisa Skube to enable development of the Journalism Accelerator. Lisa and I discovered each other 20 months ago, when we were attending a gathering at the Reynolds Journalism Institute. I described our aspiration at The Patterson Foundation to enable a collaboration space for journalism innovators, and Lisa enthusiastically explained that she was working on the same thing.

Lisa does everything with enthusiasm; I’m not sure I’ve ever known anyone who was more determined or focused. That determination has led her past obstacles and the occasional setback to launch the Journalism Accelerator earlier this year.

The Journalism Accelerator uses digital tools to provide connection among those who are working to build journalism’s future. It is a forum for conversation, but it is not conversation by happenstance; conversations at the Journalism Accelerator are curated.

By curation, we mean that the folks at the Journalism Accelerator do research on topics that are under discussion and provide background information to inform the conversation. They actively invite people into the conversation, seeking out folks from a wide range of networks to connect and discuss the topic at hand. They report back to the community on what was learned from the conversation, the questions that remain and provide collected resources that can help participants learn more.

The key difference, to me, between this forum and other like it is the level of thoughtful moderation. Journalism Accelerator editorial director Emily Harris participates in the discussion, asking questions, seeking clarifications and summarizing the points that are being made.

Part of the problem with discussions on the web is that we don’t always use the tools the medium provides to best advantage. There is a lot of talking at each other, or past each other, or posturing that can go on in any discussion forum. Media sites, for instance, are constantly frustrated by the poor quality of user comments and they ways conversation get off track.

Lisa and her team recognize that technology is only part of the equation. What makes the difference is the human interaction – high touch combined with high tech.

While the Journalism Accelerator has been quietly testing and tuning its approach since spring, it has really come to life in the last two months. The first forum posed the question “What is the value of local TV news?’’ That discussion drew more than 20 participants and generated 143 comments.

Last week, the team posed the question “What kind of election coverage do you want to bring to your community in 2012?’’ The discussion drew 36 participants from a range of backgrounds – community news entrepreneurs, journalists from traditional media and representatives of public interest groups focused both on elections and on journalism.

The conversation covered a range of issues, from providing more investigative coverage of elections to the sometimes sticky issues of political advertising.

As I watched the conversation evolve, I had that same kind of rush of feeling I used to get as a reporter and editor – that sense of seeing the impact of our work. When Lisa and I first connected in 2010, we thought we were on to something.

And now, we see the community begin to respond to that idea. There’s no doubt for me now -- I feel quite certain I am seeing progress.

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