I saw the future last week.

The NewsTools 2008 unconference drew about 150 people who are thinking about, working on, or living the future of news and journalism.

Much of NewsTools, the latest event sponsored by Journalism That Matters (JTM), was held mostly at Yahoo headquarters in Sunnyvale, Calif.

While technology was the main focus, I was more interested in learning about behind-the-scenes tools that could provide a new foundation for news organizations. The most exciting of these combine alternative revenue options with new structures -- new connections among journalists, and between journalists and communities.

On May 2, while NewsTools was happening, Poynter's Rick Edmonds advocated charging readers more for newspapers, to shift the revenue burden from advertisers. Several conference participants want to take that idea further, to eliminate ads from their news operations. For instance:

Of course, public support for journalism might depend on how well we serve the public -- and on how much the community understands and values good journalism.

To set the context for the conference, organizers worked in advance to map the old newsroom model of how news is created and the new news ecology. Visual communicator Sherrin Bennett also drew diagrams illustrating the evolving relationships among the news audience, other community members, and the news media.

One role that seems to be emerging is the "community weaver." This position might or might not be part of a traditional news operation, but it floats in the space between the traditional news media and the community. This role, among others defined by NewsTools participants, helped redraw the news enterprise of the future -- with a focus that goes beyond news to engagement and building relationships with the communities we serve.

Another theme that emerged was building bridges by helping the public learn news literacy. NewsTrust is one service that helps people become more discriminating news consumers. NewsTrust participants evaluate news stories using traditional principles of journalistic quality, and those evaluations are published on the site.

Rebuilding journalism for the 21st century requires more than doing our current jobs better. It calls for reaching out to journalists, to other fields, and to the public. Seeing through other eyes widens our own vision to new possibilities.

If you want to do more than hold on while the news industry slides down, I urge you to help build a new ladder up. I urge you to open your mind to new tools, techniques and connections.

Journalism That Matters will hold its next barn-raising, focused on local independent media, June 4-5 in Minneapolis. If you go, be prepared to collaborate.

JTM events are unusual (at least for media events) in that participants actively contribute instead of passively listen. These unconferences are a series of conversations, not lectures. The responsibility is shared.

Take it. Step up to the plate.

...So now you might ask: "Well, Maurreen, what are you doing?"

For starters, I've donated money to projects more revolutionary than mine.

Your turn.

What do you think? What are you willing to do? Please comment below.
Michelle Ferrier contributed to this E-Media Tidbit.