Three types of “Journalism Thinking” coming from outside news organizations

This was originally published as a tweet thread.

I’ve spent 15 years obsessed with the bleeding edge of journalism, marketing and online community building, and I finally have a grand unifying theory for what is happening — and where this is going.

If you’re interested in how we learn and connect together, hear me out ?

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All the News That’s Fit to Sell: notes on mass media business models from the 2003 book by James T. Hamilton

The fractured media landscape we have today was already breaking apart two decades ago, and the economic models that underpin them predicted what we have today.

That’s the benefit of reading All the News That’s Fit to Sell, a 2003 book from James T. Hamilton, a well-respected journalism professor. I’ve read Hamilton’s work before, and this book was one I’ve long had on my list. I enjoyed the work, which is just as relevant 20 years later.

His research is helpful for my understanding of journalism models that I’ve spent my entire career working on. The book is also helpful for those interested in a dispassionate outline of the beginnings of the digital transformation of media – which we’re now fully immersed in.

Below I share notes for my future reflection.

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Thoughts on tax status and journalism

Journalism is the messy art of connecting that which is true with that which can be understood. I’ve defined it in other ways before. However you define it though, practitioners like me tend to assume it is important. We work to maintain it.

In the past few months, I’ve taken a critical look at that assumption, that journalism matters. One way I’ve done that is thinking about the types of organizations that produce whatever it is that journalism is.

In periods of economic change, when institutions or processes or elements of culture are lost, challenging the assumption of importance matters. It’s a crucial step. Are we trying to hold on to this thing because of tradition or because something functionally has import?

Political philosophy is rich with debate over what crucial societal functions should be enshrined into government, or maintained by charitable organizations and what the free market can do best. With the economic disruption confronting how journalism is produced, this question is relevant again.

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Media Funders: Value the difference between Creation and Distribution

This post will draw a very bright line between the Creation and Distribution of verified information for communities, and argue for that distinction’s importance for understanding today’s news-gathering and journalism climate.

One of my favorite pieces of business-reporting conventional wisdom is that everything in the economy is cyclical. It just depends on how big the circle is this time.

That goes for business building. As early web entrepreneur Jim Barksdale famously put it, “there’s only two ways I know of to make money: bundling and unbundling.”

Information gathering (what we roughly call “journalism” today) has been a strategy for businesses for half a millennia. In its early commercial forms, the act of gathering that information and the act of distributing it were essentially two different businesses. In Barksdale’s parlance, they were “unbundled.”

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Journalism is a strategy, not an industry

Journalism is a strategy, not an industry.

Newsrooms should rethink their competition. Journalism organizations are in dozens of different businesses. What we share in common (journalism DNA) makes us more partners than adversaries. The many businesses that are competing for the revenue and not providing other community value, like service journalism, are the real competition.

This was the focus of a lightning pitch I gave this weekend at the national Online News Association annual conference in Denver. Below find my slides, audio and some tweet reactions I received.

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We need to deploy ‘Acts of Journalism’

The idea of ‘citizen journalism’ was always going to be short-lived.

It did its job to articulate that after generations of highly professionalized news-gathering we needed help. Now both professional and amateur journalists need a new understanding of the work we do.

I’ve been using a somewhat clunky and certainly pretentious-sounding phrase for some time now: producing “acts of journalism” to refer to the many outcomes that lead to honest dialogue about an idea and concept.

This could be data visualization and panel discussions and, yes, article writing, with a feature lead and a nut graf. So I was quite tickled to see Josh Stearns use this phase as the title of an important report he published for the Free Press Institute this fall [PDF].

As the Harvard Nieman Lab went on to point out: the report raises the crucial question of how Shied Laws should protect such acts.

This is a healthy reframing of journalism practitioners, and others who take on the work when relevant to their passions and interests.