THE PROMPT: Right now, nominations are open for the Online Journalism Awards. What qualities should awards like this endorse in an era of such tremendous change in the news industry?
I remember reading an article introducing an innovators/entrepreneurs meetup among young people. There isn’t much innovation going on out there, one of the attendees said snidely. Lots of projects claim to be innovative, but they’re not.
“Innovation,” the buzzword that never went out of style. Knight Foundation challenges, Y-Combinator knock-offs, J-School-community partnerships… Everyone’s scrambling for it. Innovation is important in expanding our horizons, but as I’ve heard people toss the term around, I’ve realized that we’re often equivocating “innovation” with “play,” not necessarily better ways for the audience to absorb information.
There are many projects that make us say, oh cool! But how likely are you to check back? Sign up? Explore the tool? Go a step further and give feedback?
Not quite journalism related, but we can take a page from two projects:
- Several years ago, Cooper Hewitt curated an online exhibition, Design for the Other 90%. “The majority of the world’s designers focus all their efforts on developing products and services exclusively for the richest 10% of the world’s customers. Nothing less than a revolution in design is needed to reach the other 90%.”
- DonorsChoose is like Kickstarter for teachers who need to supplement their classroom resources. DonorsChoose recently opened their API and held a contest for developers to create tools that would enhance fundraising for teachers. My friend, who administrates the Digital Arts Service Corps, comes from the AmeriCorps ethos (read: community organizer). He developed an easy-to-use app where teachers could plug in their DonorsChoose URL and the tool would generate an eyecatching PDF flier with tabs. A talented Drupal developer, Ben has designed more ambitious projects, but as with DonorsChoose, sometimes your most powerful ally is your geographic community. Bringing people into the loop doesn’t mean we have to reach immediately for the shiniest tool.
Today’s á la mode will soon be out of style. Principles, however, are timeless.
There are older approaches, older technologies that have the potential to be repurposed and should be part of the considerations when journalists (communicators, really) are trying to reach audiences. But when we pursue innovation, we should ask if we’ve considered what people actually respond to (assessments are helpful) or if we’re just itching to explore how far we can push a concept, having blind faith that if the gizmo is there, people will come.
Extract the intention: To connect with the audience? To put out something cutting edge? The results aren’t mutually exclusive, but one of those intentions has to lead.
The Carnival of Journalism is a loose network of journalistic bloggers plumbing the current state and future of journalism on a monthly basis.
Denise is the citizen journalism coordinator for The Rapidian, a participatory news project powered by the Grand Rapids community. You can read more of her musings on technology and storytelling/journalism on her blog and at The Rapidian’s dev blog.