Acts of journalism that aren’t written articles

Because the modern concept of journalism was developed inside newspaper newsrooms, we’ve stayed stuck on the idea that journalism only looks one way: written words with a feature lede and nut graf.

Maybe a photo essay. Or an editorial cartoon. Or nonfiction book. Radio and TV reports too can cut the pass. But we know what form comes to mind first when journalism is invoked: writing and editing long, multi-source feature stories, likely to put into some print publication. That has to adapt.

Back in 2012, my close friend Sean Blanda shared thoughts on reinventing the article format at a Barcamp News Innovation session — conceived largely in a technical way. A year later, I spoke at the national Online News Association conference on creative storytelling approaches.

So though this cause isn’t new, it remains relevant. I try to push our Technically Media editorial team that journalism’s real meaning is a strategy to make a community have a truer understanding of itself. Journalism has to be uncomfortable and challenging. But journalism doesn’t inherently have anything to do with writing articles.

The 1,000-word, multi-source feature report simply became the most common tool to employ that strategy because of other constraints: the best way to share that information with the most people was to put it in a story in a newspaper that could be printed and distributed. And it still is a really effective tool, but it isn’t the only.

Here are a few recent acts of journalism I was a part of that weren’t written articles:

  • published a quiz challenging readers to define as many social services organization acronyms as they could.
  • The illustrations of startup communities for our Tomorrow Tour that we contracted artist Mike Jackson to do — he wrote about the experience here.
  • Baltimore’s mayoral questionnaire featuring questions submitted from members of our community.
  • Philly’s on-going engagement with that city’s new Mayor, including several in-person speaking events (not all softballs) and introductions between community members and his administration — and featuring some of those written articles too.
  • The regular in-person community stakeholder meetings we organize that bring an invite-only, rotating group of local leaders, not all of whom know each other, and feature a moderated conversation about topics of shared interest.
  • You really should look at the notes from my 2013 ONA presentation.

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