To reach innovators, we must tap the power of networks

Posted on July 07, 2011 by Janet Coats

A full week away from the computer and the iPhone does wonders for clearing the mind and resetting priorities.

I’ve just returned from a week on Hatteras Island with my husband and our blended family of five children. As a newspaper editor and reporter for more than 25 years, I found it difficult to leave work behind when I went on vacation. This time, we didn’t watch the news, we didn’t read a newspaper and we did very little tracking of news on our phones or through our social media streams.

That said, I did do quite a bit of thinking about the work I’ve been doing as part of the New Media Journalism Initiative. Before I left for vacation, I shared with you more specifics about the projects we are working on to help build connection and sustainability for journalism entrepreneurs. Those projects – the Journalism Accelerator for networking and Block by Block for sustainability – will allow us to build our knowledge in these key areas along parallel tracks, touching a wide range of innovators with varying backgrounds, experiences and approaches.

But as I thought about it during my vacation, I realized that there is an element missing in my description of that work: the reason we’ve chosen to work across two different projects with different constituencies instead of with one, targeted group or individual.

The answer lies in the power of networks.

When traditional media outlets ruled the world, the networks connecting journalists reflected the nature of corporate journalism. The networks were large organizations, some of them bureaucracies in their own right. There was the American Society of Newspaper Editors for print newsroom leaders and the Newspaper Association of America for publishers. RTNDA represented television and radio news directors.

The Investigative Reporters and Editors organization represented, well, investigative reporters and editors. The Society for News Design provided connection for designers and artists.

There were groups for education writers, feature writers, sports writers and copy editors. There was a group for every specialty and job category in a newsroom but they were all tied together by one unifying factor: They were organized by media platform. They spoke for people who were putting out newspapers or television newscasts.

There was a unity to that. But the days of oneness in journalism are behind us.

While most of the organizations I pointed to still exist and have shifted their missions to reach out to digital journalists, the fact remains that the world of innovation in journalism is quite diffuse.

Digital tools have democratized journalism and lowered the barriers to entry. You can’t identify journalists any more based on who employs them, or even if they are employed. Entrepreneurial journalists are serving community information needs while working day jobs in other businesses. They are starting their own businesses. They are building partnerships with public radio, community foundations, universities, public policy think-tanks.

Journalism has been in a phase of innovation best described as “let a thousand flowers bloom.’’ And each one of those flowers has its own network – of supporters and funders, of users and community members, of mentors and students.

Each time we connect with one innovator, we connect to that person’s network. What we’re counting on in our work with the Journalism Accelerator and Block by Block is that we will connect to a rich range of networks – networks with some overlap, but networks that are largely diverse geographically and demographically.

Our work isn’t just about enabling innovation in one corner of the journalism world; it is about finding ways to build connection across it. These two projects give us access to a world of creativity and commitment to community news that we could never create on our own, or build through focusing on one narrow slice.

We are not a large journalism funder, but we believe in impact. We believe that investing in the power of networks is a way to magnify that impact, a way to connect to the good work of others and a way to listen and learn.

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


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