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.]
From the very first conversations we’ve had that led to his post, I’ve wanted to prove this wrong. In truth, I do believe in the future, the expectations and roles will be sorted out, and content partnerships will be understood and successful.
But, for now, content partnerships still don’t work.
Near the close of the OpenDataRace, a popularity contest for data sets that affect nonprofit missions, I was asked onto NewsWorks Tonight, the daily, local drive-time news radio show from NPR affiliate WHYY. We recorded the segment last week and it aired Monday.
Read more about the contest here, see the data sets and register to vote here and listen to the NewsWorks segment below.
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.
But it’s not the first ONA chapter here. As recent as summer 2008, an ONA Philly chapter, led by then Inquirer online editor Chris Krewson and Philly.com editor Wendy Warren, held a big regional conference. But it was a time of heavy contraction and stress over at 400 North Broad Street. The workload wasn’t spread enough and that iteration fizzled. (Credit to Krewson and Warren for first bringing the group here — and setting up the first Facebook group.)
My friend, the young sage Daniel Victor, who took a gig at Philly.com under Warren earlier this year after the collapse at TBD, has taken up the cause. Enlisting the Technically Philly crew (hi, that’s me!) and local AP editor Amy Fiscus, Victor is bringing the show back. I’m happy he jump-started the idea, but I’m proud to have been part of bringing this back and expect to play a role for a long time in the future.
We had small 20-30 person meetups in July and August and now are moving forward. On Sept. 15, NewsWorks is hosting a show and tell on their near one-year anniversary of work from WHYY, details above at right in sidebar.
From what I know, there’s never been a national ONA conference in Philadelphia. That’s something I’d like to see changed.
For Philly.com to maintain and expand upon its role as the dominant hub site in the Philadelphia region, it needs to become a comprehensive, collaborative and open source for all news, information and analysis that happens, reflects and impacts this metro area.
Contrary to what perhaps many at PMN may believe, the more than 200 combined editorial staff members are not, and likely cannot, currently produce that comprehension. Nor should they.
Philly.com’s reach will always be stilted — by other major, also growing online audiences for local TV news websites, suburban newspapers, a nascent, if not yet real, threat in the NewsWorks initiative from WHYY, and other community sites — until it realizes it shouldn’t be a newspaper landing page but the ultimate authority of regional content. That’s a problem for the future success of a brand with a business model predicated on more eyeballs.
Let me be clear here: I have many friends who work there. I think they do great work. This is not at all a criticism of the work done there, but rather, some thoughts for developing their Philly.com brand. I’m an outsider and a journalism geek, so it’s fun to brainstorm. OK, follow my thoughts 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.”