Organization-wide experiments can often be tougher to launch than learn from or reorient around. Once staff is brought on and workflows established, changing anything may be more challenging than ever launching the project to start. That’s when bold leadership is most needed.
That’s been on my mind recently when I’ve thought about the wonderful progress that has come with NewsWorks.org, the online news home for WHYY, the Philadelphia region’s public media outfit. Let’s look at its three-year history and its future and use it as an example for being bold enough to experiment and then knowing when to act on that experiment.
[Full Disclosure: I have friendships and close relationships with nearly a dozen people at WHYY and also sit on their community advisory board, but, while surely that insight informs my perspective, these conclusions are my own and don’t incorporate anything more than what is already public.]
After an hour of beer donated by Boxcar Brewing, sandwiches from the Trolleycar Diner and pretzels from the Center City Soft Pretzel Co., I kicked off the night and introduced WHYY editorial chief Chris Satullo.
Satullo and Don Henry, two of the many leading faces behind the NewsWorks initiative, shared five tasks they got right and five tasks they got wrong. Text of them all and video of the first few below.
Do news organizations have responsibility for their outcome?
That became the final and, I think, as yet unanswered close to a discussion I led during the final session of the third national BarCamp NewsInnovation, held Saturday April 30 at Temple University and rounding out the inaugural Philly Tech Week. [See past BCNI write ups here.]
Overall I felt this BCNI, with some 150 attendees from startup shops and some serious brands, featured more sessions that embodied that unconference spirit in being less presentation and more dialogue, something I don’t think I felt in the past. I was also interested to see the true step forward past social media and other tools and into sustainability, which I find to be a far more important place to be.
To that end and coming off Philly Tech Week, without preparation, I proposed a session in the day’s final hour: “A conversation on news as a convener.”
The annual national Online News Association conference, to be held this fall in Boston, has launched its 2011 panel picker, in which those interested can vote to support their favorites of a couple hundred suggested sessions.
I am somewhat involved in three. To vote, users just need to sign up with an email. If you’re interested give love to any of these three:
Data Sets You Free — Informed by my Transparencity work, I proposed to lead a session with Robert Cheetham of Azavea and Chris Satullo of WHYY that would focus on the following: “In Philadelphia, a GIS shop, an NPR affiliate, a foundation, an indie news site and a technology community are coming together to organize, catalog, share and use city government data to create applications, stories and coverage that boosts transparency and efficiency. This presentation focuses on what was done, why collaboration was important and lessons on doing the same elsewhere.” Questions: 1. Why is government data so important? 2. What are challenges, obstacles and lessons from an actual example? 3. What can other journalists learn from such a project?
This isn’t a panel: 10 lessons from Technically Philly — “10 actionable lessons derived from what we’ve learned building Technically Philly, a profitable blog that covers technology in Philadelphia. No panel discussion, just 10 takeaways that you can use at your job tomorrow including sources of revenue and editorial philosophies that you didn’t learn in journalism school.”
Making it work with a small staff — Organized by colleague Sean Blanda, “How can you keep the lights on and the posts coming when you have a staff of ten or less? Join us as we discuss the workflow hacks and editorial jujitsu necessary for a first-rate news site.”
“This will fund journalism, support other outlets and find and cover gaps in coverage,” said Greenle in a small meeting of stakeholders yesterday. It may likely take at least a year for real momentum to happen here. Various matching grant efforts are expected to boost that overall total, in addition to future revenue plans, Greenle said.
In 2011, the grant would create a collaborative Center for Public Interest Journalism housed at Temple, which would serve three main functions:
‘One Stop Shopping’ — Centralized resources from Temple that could benefit public affairs journalism in the region (like MPIP, the computer science program, the journalism program) to be offered to partners in some way.
Incubate Collaboration — This center will incubate a collaborative effort that will take a more active role in public affairs journalism that could very well look like this or portions of this. Or not. That’s to be left up to senior staff, as explained below.
Host Events — Create a broader dialogue among journalists by housing the existing Phiji series and, as I thought, perhaps involving the BarCamp NewsInnovation event we and Technically Philly have put hosted at Temple.
In short, NewsWorks, which had its official launch last Monday, Nov. 15, is WHYY’s new online news brand, serving as home to its existing journalism, in addition to (A) new columns, (B) calls for community contributions and (C) a trial hyperlocal push in northwest Philadelphia.
It’s a big bold swing and at least four years in the making.
Indeed, where Newsworks is a year or two from now will mean a great deal to the entire news ecosystem of Philadelphia, at least. Some of those people who come to mind:
I felt the Inquirer’s Dan Rubin was the nearest in a legacy of citywide voice boxes, telling the broadest and widest ranging stories. Perhaps that’s true.
But it’s been nagging me that outside of some media-focused friends — and even then — I never hear Rubin or his other traditional columnist colleagues with any sort of regularity.
Instead, the columnists whose names I read, hear mentioned and myself reference the most are increasingly niche orientated. They’re not writing about the city, they’re writing about and for a very narrowly focused part of it. These are other critics and writers who have long existed in newspaper parlance, but I believe the increasingly niche-dominated media ecosystem means their voices carry greater power than before.
The report, which was released Wednesday, comes from the J-Lab journalism institute at American University and its Executive Director, Pulitzer Prize winner and former Philadelphia Inquirer business editor Jan Schaffer.
The final report, which can be read in its entirety here, tacitly outlines the steps to develop roughly two things: (1) a central website of public affairs coverage and (2) a journalism collaboration by way of staff, funding and shared administrative and business services — which I like to think was at least partially influenced by our pushing on with News Inkubator.
Updated: The William Penn Foundation will not “necessarily” implement what was found in the report, communications director Brent Thompson told me.
More broadly, as Schaffer wrote in an e-mail to those she interviewed in her months-long research: “After a deep analysis of the media landscape, J-Lab has recommended that Philadelphia is ripe for a unique Networked Journalism collaborative, partnering new media makers with original reporting on public affairs.”
It’s a quick and more detailed move less than half a year a large stakeholders meeting that was less than decisive.
Updated 4/13/10 @ 8:50 a.m.: Regionally-specific hyperlocal is just part of the broader system
WHYY, the public media station for the Delaware Valley region, is hoping a $1.2 million hyperlocal news initiative for the northwest region of Philadelphia will be the first successful bold Web-first journalism effort from a legacy media player.
Updated: That northwest hyperlocal is just one very large, very expensive trial vertical within a larger rollout.
But will “NewsWorks” go the way of a handful of its predecessors?