Technology aside, relationships remain at journalism's core

Posted on April 27, 2012 by Janet Coats

I just got back from a trip to Paris, a gift from my husband for our wedding anniversary. Along with my memories of seeing the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, I brought back a few impressions about – yes – media consumption.

Digital media consumption, to be exact. Because I am a very cheap person, I had insisted that we keep the iPhones turned off to avoid running up a monumental text and data bill. So we had to rely on books and paper maps and my husband’s mastery of the translation guide to get us around.

So we didn’t have a cellphone in front of our faces. But we began to notice we weren’t the only ones.

While Parisians had plenty of smartphones in their pockets, they tended to stay there. We saw almost no one walking and talking on the phone at the same time. In the cafes, people actually looked at each other and engaged in conversation, rather than glancing up from the phone from time to time to ask a companion what they’d just said.

Everything about the culture said that what was in front of you was more important than what was on the screen of your phone. Relationships clearly mattered.

And at the core, journalism is still all about relationships.

There’s no doubt that the rise of social media and mobile devices have changed the game when it comes to how people consume and share news and information. It is easy to be dazzled by the technology and the ways it just keeps topping itself.

I was in a conversation this week about the Journalism Accelerator, one of the projects we’ve been enabling. Part of the interest in the Journalism Accelerator is in the way it uses technology to enable conversation and connection among journalism’s innovators.

We’re proud of the technology behind the JA, and especially pleased that it is built on open source, readily available tools. But we recognize that the real value lies in the work of the JA team to cultivate relationships, to bring together people with common concerns and a passion for journalism.

Our work with independent local news publishers in the Block by Block project has focused intensely on financial sustainability. There’s no question that the biggest challenge facing these publishers is the need to develop strong business models.

But while we’re focused on the business issues, we know that the answer for these publishers lies in relationships. Their biggest asset in securing their financial future is the deep relationships they’ve built with the communities they serve.

Technology has provided us with ways to report and share information that would have seemed like science fiction just a decade ago. It also has given us ways to listen to the conversations our communities are having about the issues most important to them.

But relationships can’t be built using an algorithm. They can help us listen, learn and find new ways to connect people with information they can act on.

That’s what we’re interested in enabling – the connection that is, and always has been, at the core of journalism.

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