The year of investing in processes

“In a quest to find a solution that will work for everyone, we too often invest in ideas that don’t work particularly well for anyone.”

In 2018, my aspirational prediction is that the journalism industry shifts its focus on innovation toward investing in processes, rather than platforms and products.

Currently, too many good ideas are discarded because they don’t fit the dominant model of “scalable” and “replicable,” which is too narrow in scope.

Many large newsrooms struggle with the reality that the scale their model requires keeps them focused on stories that have the potential of spreading quickly, but fleetingly, across as broad an audience as possible. VC-backed startup journalism still too often focuses on the development of platforms that show a direct pathway for expansion or to become easily replicable, across markets. And the pressure of many funders’ impact reports not only drive the projects that get funded to think about an immediate pathway to scale and replication, but also shape what even gets proposed.

Meanwhile, we have a steady stream of news about the downsizing and shuttering of local journalism outlets, an ongoing trend of concentration of news jobs to a small set of cities, and growing discussion of local news deserts (or, at least, news ecosystems facing significant soil infertility). And, lest we think that at least means the few cities where journalists have concentrated must inevitably have vibrant local journalism markets, consider closely the challenges faced in the past year for journalism specifically serving cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

By only investing in solutions when we can directly see where/how they will be replicable and/or scaled from the beginning, we run the risk of leaving the best approaches to the specific problem at hand on the drawing board. In a quest to find a solution that will work for everyone, we too often invest in ideas that don’t work particularly well for anyone.

Part of our challenge has been chasing “the answer,” when there isn’t one. And, by that, I mean there isn’t a blanket solution out there that we just haven’t uncovered yet. Rather, these are the sorts of wicked problems Heather Chaplin writes about that we have to uncover.

That doesn’t mean, though, that there isn’t anything that can be done or learned from one project or another — that every challenge out there is its own solitary equation, and every entity working on it is in a lonely, solitary pursuit.

Rather, the question should be: “What process should we go through to find and test potential responses to our challenge?” Whether that “wicked problem” be sustainable business models for local journalism, fostering more meaningful community investment, better addressing communities being significantly underserved by the current journalism industry, bridging divides in a polarized climate, or any other pressing part of the challenges journalism faces, we should be investing in exploring useful models and approaches to find the best solution for that particular audience and in those particular circumstances.

I don’t think that I’m stupidly optimistic to believe that 2018 could be the year of the rise of significant investment in processes, rather than products and platforms. In 2017, I’ve been inspired by working with several organizations who are doing just that — developing approaches for addressing key challenges around journalism and civic engagement. For instance:

  • The MIT Open Documentary Lab’s emerging Co-Creation Studio is exploring how a co-creation process of documentary storytelling can help communities explore solutions to the problems they face. I’ve already seen in its earliest stages how this approach has enormous potential for our Future of Work in Kentucky initiative I’m co-leading.
  • The Civic Paths team at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School is studying and developing processes for how fostering “civic imagination” can help communities develop a common vision for the future they’d like to see (an approach we’ve incorporated into the Future of Work in Kentucky).
  • The Jefferson Center is developing new approaches to deliberative democracy through its Your Voice Ohio program, on whose advisory board I’m honored to serve. Meanwhile, through the work of Michelle Ferrier’s Media Seeds initiative in Southeastern Ohio, the Center is also investing in systems for helping communities without sufficient access to daily local news and information build new communication tools around existing community assets.
  • My client Orb Media has been iterating a process to work with publishing partners around the world to produce multimedia stories inspired by data journalism. These stories tackle global issues that include civic participation in its reporting, with each publishing partner having the opportunity to explore the ramifications of the issue in their particular area.

In addition to being inspired by these groups, I’m currently working with Andrea Wenzel at Temple University to develop an approach to strengthening the information ecosystem, storytelling network, and civic engagement within particular localities. Through our “From Polarization to Public Sphere” work in Bowling Green and Ohio County, Kentucky, supported by Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism, we have been building a process for addressing these issues that begins with research which informs a workshop that then leads to pilot projects, which we are just beginning with local partner newsrooms like the Bowling Green Daily News and The Ohio County Monitor.

I’m also currently interested in how we look for processes and approaches to finding solutions for local communities or niche audiences outside the journalism realm altogether: for instance, through studying the development of ecosystems that support artisanal businesses, as Grant McCracken, Leora Kornfeld, and I are exploring in the Artisanal Economies Project.

All of these projects involve establishing and testing processes that help lead to products, services, platforms, etc., which are specific to the circumstances of each community and situation. And all require investment in the sort of slow innovation approaches that Federico Rodríguez Tarditi and I explored in our work at Univision’s Fusion Media Group.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that many of these approaches are being driven by players outside of conventional commercial newsrooms, in organizations often better poised to do such slow innovation work. But building and testing these processes will require the active support and participation of all types of organizations throughout the news ecosystem.

The stakes for investing in sustainable processes for supporting the future of journalism are high, and we need to put our energy into investing in the approaches that drive building healthy civic ecosystems. I don’t believe I’m being stupidly optimistic to say that we can do this, if we get focused on asking the right questions.

P.S. Of course, last year, I predicted 2017 “as the year industry stakeholders put significant institutional, cross-industry resources behind better advertising products,” so what do I know?

P.P.S. Actually, technically, the title said 2017 would be “the year we talk about our awful metrics…” so I suppose we at least talked about them.

Sam Ford consults and runs projects focused on media innovation.

Daniel Trielli   The rich get richer, the poor scramble

Michelle Ferrier   The year of the great reckoning

Millie Tran and Stine Bauer Dahlberg   (Hint: It’s about your brand)

Feli Sánchez   The year for guerrilla user research

Evie Nagy   Pivot to mobile video frustration

Nancy Watzman   Know thy TV

Trushar Barot   The Jio-fication of India

Caitlin Thompson   Podcasting models mature and diversify

Frédéric Filloux   External forces

Ray Soto   VR reaches the next level

Taylor Lorenz   Social and media will split

Sara M. Watson   Feeds will open up to new user-determined filters

Lucas Graves   From algorithms to institutions

Andrew Ramsammy   The year ownership mattered

Alexios Mantzarlis   Moving fake news research out of the lab

Matt DeRienzo   A recession, then a collapse

Sam Sanders   Shine the light on ourselves

Sam Ford   The year of investing in processes

Cristina Wilson   The year of the Instagram Story

Jake Levine   The return to now

Miguel Castro   The arrival of the impact producer

Debra Adams Simmons   And a woman shall lead them

Jarrod Dicker   Honesty in advertising

Cory Haik   Suffering from realness, pivoting to impact

Matt Thompson   Here come the attention managers

Nushin Rashidian   Publishers seek ad dollar alternatives

Jesse Holcomb   Information disorder, coming to a congressional district near you

Errin Haines Whack   At the ballot, it’s time to count black women

Betsy O'Donovan and Melody Kramer   Skepticism and narcissism

Adam Thomas   Sharing is caring: The year of the mentor

Brian Lam   Sketchy ethics around product reviews

Matt Boggie   The intellectual equivalent of the Dead Sea

Lam Thuy Vo   Breaking free from the tyranny of the loudest

Burt Herman   Things get real

Rodney Benson   Better, less read, and less trusted

Doris Truong   Computer vision vs. the Internet vigilantes

Emma Carew Grovum   Newsroom culture becomes a priority

Amy Webb   Listen to weak signals

Mary Walter-Brown   Show a little vulnerability

Carlos Martínez de la Serna   The new journalism commons

Tanya Cordrey   Finally, the seeds of radical reinvention

Bill Keller   A growing turn to philanthropy

Rubina Madan Fillion   Unlocking the potential of AI

Ruth Palmer   Risks will grow for news subjects — especially minorities

Hossein Derakhshan   Television has won

Jacqui Cheng   Retailers move into content

Kelsey Proud   No, no, no

Helen Havlak   Keywords, not publishers, power the world’s biggest feeds

Alastair Coote   The year of self-improvement

Lanre Akinola   Making noise is not a strategy

Sue Schardt   Jump the niche

Monika Bauerlein   The firehose of falsehood

Luke O'Neil   The end is already here

Tamar Charney   We get serious about algorithms

Dan Shanoff   You down with OTT? (Yeah, DTC)

Amie Ferris-Rotman   More female reporters abroad (please)

Tanzina Vega   It’s time for media companies to #PassTheMic

Mandy Velez   texting is lit rn, fam

Mariana Moura Santos   Think local, act global

Joyce Barnathan   It will be harder to bury the news

Monique Judge   Letting black women tell their own stories

Jennifer Brandel and Mónica Guzmán   The editorial meeting of the future

Amy King   Let’s amplify visual voice

Christopher Meighan   Passive partnership is in the rearview

Molly de Aguiar   Good journalism won’t be enough

John Keefe   Scooped by AI

L. Gordon Crovitz   Serving readers over advertisers

Rodney Gibbs   Tech workers turn to journalism

Almar Latour   Conquering calm

S. Mitra Kalita   The arc of news and audience

Dheerja Kaur   Fun with subscription products

Mariano Blejman   News games rule

Steve Grove   The midterms are an opportunity

Claire Wardle   Disinformation gets worse

Mira Lowe   The year of the local watchdog

Pablo Boczkowski   The rise of skeptical reading

Sarah Marshall   Loyalty as the key performance indicator

Nathalie Malinarich   Peak push

Jamie Mottram   From pageviews to t-shirts

Felix Salmon   Covering bitcoin while owning bitcoin

Marie Gilot   No assholes allowed

Federica Cherubini   The rise of bridge roles in news organizations

Kim Fox   Audience teams diversify their approach

Tracie Powell   The muting of underserved voices

Jennifer Choi   Standing up for us and for each other

Eric Nuzum   Beyond the narrative arc

Kathleen McElroy   Building a news video experience native to mobile

Dannagal G. Young   Stop covering politics as a game

Aron Pilhofer   We can’t leave the business to the business side any more

Mi-Ai Parrish   Blockchain and trust

Susie Banikarim   R.I.P. Pivot to Video (2017–2017)

Hannah Cassius   The year of the echo-chamber escapists

Kristen Muller   The year of the voter

Alan Soon   The rise of start of psychographic, micro-targeted media

Raney Aronson-Rath   Transparency is the antidote to fake news

Vanessa K. DeLuca   Women’s voices take center stage

Ariana Tobin   Too tired to tap

Jim Moroney   Newspapers have to be good enough for readers to pay for

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams   Women of color will reclaim and monetize our time

Ståle Grut   Reclaiming audience interaction from social networks

Tim Carmody   Watch out for Spotify

Usha Sahay   Wallets get opened

Laura E. Davis   Writing answers before you know the question

Corey Johnson   The pro-fact resistance

Sally Lehrman   Trust comes first

Andrew Haeg   The year journalists become relationship builders

Matt Carlson   Attacks on the press will get worse

Rick Berke   Value is the watchword

Kawandeep Virdee   Zines had it right all along

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon   Seeking trust in fragmented spaces

Nicholas Quah   Stop talking trash about young people

Borja Echevarría   TV goes digital, digital goes TV

José Zamora   Revenue-first journalism

Joanne McNeil   Gatekeeping the gatekeepers

Mike Caulfield   Refactoring media literacy for the networked age

Imaeyen Ibanga   Longform video leads the way

An Xiao Mina   Memes and visuals come to the fore

Jassim Ahmad   Thriving on change

Vivian Schiller   Pivot to tomorrow

Jim Brady   With the people, not just of the people

Julia B. Chan   Looking for loyalty in all the right places

Michael Kuntz   The only pivot that might work

Manoush Zomorodi   Self-help as a publishing strategy

P. Kim Bui   The reckoning is only beginning

Kyle Ellis   Let’s build our way out of this

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   The Snapchat scenario and the risk of more closed platforms

Richard J. Tofel   The platforms’ power demands more reporters’ attention

Rachel Davis Mersey   AI, with real smarts

Umbreen Bhatti   The trust problem isn’t new

Alice Antheaume   Are you fluent in AI?

Damon Krukowski   Reviving the alt-weekly soul

Ernst-Jan Pfauth   Publishing less to give readers more

Pete Brown   Push alerts, personalized

Charo Henríquez   Training is an investment, not an expense

Francesco Marconi   The year of machine-to-machine journalism

Neha Gandhi   Filler killers

Julia Beizer   A longer view on the pivot

Niketa Patel   Live journalism comes of age

Raju Narisetti   Mirror, mirror on the wall

Eric Ulken   The year local publishers get smart(er) about change

Jennifer Coogan   The future is female

Juliette De Maeyer   A responsible press criticism

Andrew Losowsky   The year of resilience

Mario García   Storytelling finally adapts to mobile

Jessica Parker Gilbert   Design connects storytelling and strategy

Joanne Lipman   Journalists inventing revenue streams

Paul Ford   Go global

Marcela Donini and Thiago Herdy   Collaboration is the way forward for Brazilian journalism

Nikki Usher   The year of The Washington Post

Edward Roussel   Eyes, ears, and brains

Elizabeth Jensen   Show your work

Basile Simon   We need better career paths for news nerds

Pia Frey   Address users as individuals

Will Sommer   The year local media gets conservative

Cindy Royal   Your journalism curriculum is obsolete

Justin Kosslyn   The year journalists become digital security experts

Craig Newmark   Working together toward sustainable solutions

David Skok   Finding an information-life balance

Mary Meehan   Real lives are at stake in rural areas

Emily Goligoski   Looking beyond news for inspiration

Michelle Garcia   Navigating journalistic transparency

Sydette Harry   Listen to your corner and watch for the hook

Renée Kaplan   The year of quiet adjustments (shhh)

Carrie Brown-Smith   Transparency finally takes off

Kinsey Wilson   Facebook and Google: Help out or pay up

Jared Newman   Venture funding and digital news don’t mix

Alfred Hermida   Going beyond mobile-first

Dan Newman   A return to trust

Heather Bryant   Building the ecosystems for collaboration

Corey Ford   The empire strikes back

Zizi Papacharissi   Women come back

Nicholas Diakopoulos   Fortifying social media from automated inauthenticity

Rachel Schallom   Better design helps differentiate opinion and news

Caitria O'Neill   The new court of public opinion

Yvonne Leow   The rise of video messaging

C.W. Anderson   The social media apocalypse