7 Ways to keep journalism alive (without paywalls)

Is journalism dead? Not even close. Attendees at this past week’s Online News Association conference were brimming with ideas about how to sustain journalism and the technologies that will support the industry. Want to be a part of the future of journalism and technology? Here’s what you need to know.

1. Explore new technologies, but be discerning

In her workshop Top Ten Tech Trends You’ve Still Never Heard Of, Webbmedia Group’s Amy Webb threw a list of amazing new technologies at the audience like lightning bolts, each one more dazzling than the last. While all the technologies mentioned had the ability to elevate journalism, it would be foolhardy to adopt them all at the same time. Instead, choose the tools that you think are right for your organization and can do more than just be the “cool” new tool.

2. Experiment, but don’t be afraid to fail

The journalism culture insists that new ideas be tested and proven before they are actually put into place, the opposite of other industries where failure is a part of the process. Journalism innovators have such a heavy burden on their shoulders because the world is watching and sometimes waiting to cry FAIL should a project go under. Don’t be afraid of failure or the naysayers, because as journalism educator Ann Grimes said, it is okay to “fail early and often.”

3. Follow the wisdom of the crowd

There were many great panels at ONA, but the absolute best and most informative wasn’t created by conference producers, but rather was voted up by conference attendees. Instead of a group of pre-selected panelists, the lively “un-conference” session led by Publish2’s Ryan Sholin encouraged input from anyone who wanted to speak and the diverse viewpoints contributed to the collective knowledge of the group and a better understanding of the topic.

4. Collaborate with others outside of journalism

Looking to other journalists for inspiration can be equivalent to the blind leading the blind. The way to truly innovate is to look outside of journalism for ways to improve the industry. Take a cue from Stanford University and a number of other journalism schools who have partnered with other departments to come up with new ways technology can be used to enhance and sustain journalism.

5. There’s more than one way to skin a cat

One ONA session in particular left the audience scratching their heads after the presenter showcased only one way to create an online map when there in fact hundreds of ways to create map mashups. The implied lesson: there may be a single technology that everyone is using but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t experiment with different options. Case in point: journalists and geeks all gravitate toward one technology and chastise others for not following suit. If you’re using a computer, it must be a Mac, if you’re using a browser it must be Firefox and if you’re using email it must be Gmail. Forget about what others say, if you find something that suits you better, go with it.

6. Follow your passion…now

You don’t have to wait until you are let go from or quit your job to start the next big revolutionary project. ONA speakers Leo Laporte and Om Malik started with an idea for their respective businesses and didn’t wait for editors or business executives to give them the go ahead. If you start small and have a great idea, that will idea will cut through the clutter and rise to the top where other people will discover it.

7. Provide good content

It doesn’t matter how novel or innovative journalism is presented if the content itself sucks. There are a million burgeoning ideas of how to present news but if the writing, reporting, facts and research are lacking, readers and viewers just won’t care.


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