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Re-Engineering Journalism

May 27, 2011

I spent the afternoon at Stanford University yesterday observing 20 of this year's Knight Journalism Fellows deliver short presentations on their visions for the future of journalism.

As someone who spends a lot of time grappling with thoughts about how professional journalism can stay useful and sustainable in these times of media frenzy and economic turmoil, and also as the lucky recipient of a Knight Fellowship for the upcoming academic year 2011-2012, attending the event was a no-brainer for me.

The three-minute speeches delivered by the fellows, who hail from countries as diverse as Pakistan, Cuba and Uganda as well as from all over the United States, had a lot in common with one another. Nearly every fellow sees journalism as a form of social justice. Many are working on projects that engage citizens as journalists in order to tell stories about individuals or groups who they feel often under-represented in the mainstream media (whether women or Latino youth or Nepalese villagers) and many are focused on crowd sourcing content from the public and harnessing social media to bring their projects to life.

I wasn't clear in some cases about how exactly the project organizers planned to execute their world-saving ideas. And few articulated any message about how they planned to make their projects financially viable.

I also found some of the presentations to be a little canned. Perhaps over-rehearsal was to blame. On the other hand, delivering a speech about a highly personal new idea you've been working on for a year in front of a busy lecture theatre when you know you're being videoed is no mean feat, especially if English isn't your first language.

A couple of years ago, the Knight Fellowship shifted its emphasis from inviting a bunch of journalists to spend a year generally enriching their minds in order to become better journalists in the holistic sense, to asking those selected to focus on developing projects aimed at innovating the field of journalism using the latest technological tools and cross-disciplinary thinking. Yesterday's event represented the first time in the 45-year history of the Knight Fellowship (and two year history of its new "Innovation-Entrepreneurship-Leadership" focus) that the fellows had been asked to present their projects publicly. Though the event itself could use some slight re-tooling in terms of finding a way to make it feel more organic, conversational and inclusive, I think that creating a public forum for all the great work that the fellows do is a marvelous thing.

I'm looking forward to participating this time next year.

P.S. On the subject of trends in journalism, here's a link to an excellent blogpost on the subject by Jeff Jarvis.

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