10 Hopeful Thoughts about the Future of Journalism
The following is an edited version of a speech I gave recently at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa.
So much gloom and doom, most of it warranted. You could almost predict this future-of-journalism talk. But let's play contrarian. Let's focus on great reasons to pay attention to -- or participate in -- creating, gathering and distributing news and information. Here are 10 hopeful points about the future of journalism.
1. Anybody can play
A clever, useful idea can work without barriers to entry. No printing press or reporters are required. Take "A Football Report," for example. This international soccer site has been around since mid-July and already has partnerships with English and Spanish companies. It has a Twitter page, YouTube channels and thousands of Facebook fans. And the creators? They're teenagers.
I'd like to tell you about another person. Steve Smith, a guy from Watertown, N.Y., told me he read news sites voraciously and submitted ideas almost every day to a media blogger. Then one day he thought: Why not blog himself, put the interesting stories up and add local stories as well? The result? www.newzjunky.com. It's a great site that aggregates news from northern New York state, New York City and New England.
2. You can make a difference
A woman in Newton, Mass., created a popular site called Tehran Bureau. From the living room of her parents' home, Kelly Golnoush Niknejad collected e-mails, photos and posts from her native Iran and put them up on her site. Her news alerts and Twitter feeds became go-to resources for mainstream media in the post-election tumult this summer in Iran.
3. Neighbors can help
The News-Press in Fort Myers, Fla. asked its readers to e-mail their water usage and billing information. It revealed vast discrepancies in charges that forced major changes by a utility. Crowd-sourcing works. Ask users to weigh in on what they think of x and y.
4. Be your own paperboy/girl
Paperboys/girls just aren't around much anymore. Bookmarking a site's home page feels kind of 1999-ish as well. So it's up to you to find the reader who would want your content. You must get the word out about your work through sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Digg, Fark, Reddit and StumbleUpon. Use specific sites for specific niches.
Use your digital nativity. Eric Kuhn just turned 23. While still at Hamilton College, he helped the NBA reach out to female fans and Katie Couric link up with moms. He had a Huffington Post column, and got a job in July on CNN. He has leveraged Facebook, Twitter, Digg and StumbleUpon to work with established media to find new markets. And so can you.
5. Love your town and the topic you're covering
Parenting, the environment, movies, pets. If you're going to cover one of these topics, make sure you've got the personal interest -- or the economic interest -- to sustain it. Pursue your passion and share it with others.
6. Better curated sites will bring better readership and ad dollars
Aim for strong writing and irresistible headlines. Get big guest stars to blog for you. Pepper your entries with links that add more credibility to your work -- documents, audio interviews, transcripts, articles from respected sources. The more transparent your information, the more authoritative you can be.
7. Ad dollars aren't the only way to go
Look into affiliate memberships, event promotion and the PayPal voluntary contribution approach. In the yearlong blog project that inspired the movie "Julie & Julia," fans helped buy Julie Powell's food while she tried to make 524 Julia Child recipes in a year.
This summer, we created an affiliate membership on Amazon. At the same time, we asked readers to rate the 100 best New England books. This feature didn't have an ad sponsor, but we created a "click to buy" feature and made 15 percent from every book that readers were inspired to buy.
8. Ideally, the ''essentials'' remain from print
As newspapers shrink, the better ones are thinking deeply about who remains. The city hall reporter. The police reporter. The education reporter. The local gossip columnist, the obit writer and sports reporters.
The staff may be smaller, but hopefully most of the news will remain. Newspapers, such as the Globe, also are working creatively with freelancers and nearby university programs to cover news that might not get reported as well. Some foundation-sponsored outfits, such as ProPublica, aim to fill the void of investigative reporting.
9. Recruit, recruit, recruit
If you are interested in becoming an "infopreneur," then search for knowledgeable and articulate sources, find interesting people to blog for you, take photos and present videos and animation. Give them the keys and let them drive.
10. Embrace technology
I've given this short shrift here, but new ways to display news and information -- from maps, to mobile applications, to highlighted information, to very Web 1.0 things such as photo slideshows and news galleries -- are integral to the future of online platforms.
David Beard is editor of Boston.com, the Web site of The Boston Globe.