2
0
1
9

We can acknowledge what we don’t know

“When it comes to the big questions in local news maybe the safer bet is to admit that no matter how venerable our institutions or talented our people, none of us has the answers”

First let’s acknowledge up-front that when it comes to “saving” local news, none of us has any clue what we’re doing.

Not me. Not you. Not the boss with the biggest title. Or that slick presenter you saw at South By. Or the person who made the savvy investment, or spot-on prediction, or devastating tweet, that somehow convinced the rest of us they’re a genius.

If someone had the answer, I’d be out in the workshop chiseling their bust into marble. But they don’t. At best, we’re making educated guesses. At worst, we’re shooting in the dark.

Sounds obvious, I hope. Like blue sky and green grass. But knowing is different from believing, and I don’t think most of us yet truly feel this in our bones. Because if we did, I think we’d be be doing things a lot differently.

A year ago, I was lucky to be given an opportunity to take a job at my hometown newspaper, the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, after spending several years at The New York Times, where I managed teams working at the intersection of news and technology.

Those years in New York were invaluable for many reasons, but one was watching up close as The Times undertook some thoughtful (and at times very public) soul-searching about how to reboot itself for the digital age.

At least from my vantage point, that process was empathetic, vulnerable and evinced a remarkable self awareness. It identified clear weaknesses, questioned fundamental assumptions and killed sacred cows. It helped promote a cultural shift that encouraged seeking and testing over knowing all the answers — no small thing for a dignified institution whose traditions literally predate the invention of the telephone.

Directly or indirectly, I think many of the things we now celebrate about the place are at least in part a product of that shift: product and technology working alongside reporters and editors; new initiatives like the briefings; making reporters more human through the Reader Center; even headline shruggies.

Getting back into the metro news game for the first time in almost a decade, I’ve been thinking a lot about how local newsrooms can tap into that same spirit of continuous improvement and discovery. And the word I keep coming back to is humility.

Deep down in our lizard brains, I think a lot of us local newsroom leaders still think we know the way out of this mess. Launch the right product. Hire the right person. License the right tools. “Readers want this.” “Readers don’t want that.” Or just stick to our routines, do good journalism, and the rest will sort itself out.

But when it comes to the big questions in local news — sustaining public service journalism, driving subscriptions, creating a strong digital report — maybe the safer bet is to admit that no matter how venerable our institutions or talented our people, none of us has the answers.

If we believe that — and I mean really believe it — we can change the way we approach the problem:

We can encourage ideas to come from the bottom up, not the top down, and take deliberate steps (however small) to try them.

We can develop systems to rigorously test those ideas. Kill the ones that don’t work. Scale up the ones that do.

We can preach forgiveness, not permission, and create venues to celebrate and learn from our failures.

We can employ user testing and research to see how real people are interacting with our journalism.

We can acknowledge that just because we’re news experts doesn’t mean we’re product experts. (And while we’re at it, we can stop leaving business to the business side).

We can hire and promote from nontraditional places, to diversify the voices that make decisions and empower change agents who can make us uncomfortable.

We can show vulnerability to our readers and engage them with authenticity, rather than speaking to them from a remove.

We can build systems to counter our most unproductive impulses: our struggles to think long-term, our bias toward inertia, the incentives that discourage smart people from speaking up.

Ironically, by knowing what we don’t know, the better we can maximize the chance we’ll find the answers we’re looking for.

It’s my hope — though not necessarily my prediction — is that 2019 will be the year more of us move from simply understanding that to truly believing it.

Chase Davis is a senior digital editor at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis.

Raney Aronson-Rath   We learn “digital” doesn’t have to mean “short”

Colleen Shalby   Representation becomes more than a talking point

Adam Smith   Platforms will have to help rebuild trust in news

Laura E. Davis   More access, but not that kind

Justin Kosslyn   Text hits a tipping point

Hossein Derakhshan   The news is dying, but journalism will not — and should not

Sarah Alvarez   Simplify and redistribute

Frank Mungeam   Tonight at 11: News, sports, and climate change

Mariana Moura Santos   From pageviews to impact

Rodney Gibbs   A bright — and young — year for audio

Axie Navas   The traffic hunt, CMS battle, and magazine identity crises loom

Shannon McGregor   More bogus embedded tweets in our stories

Becca Aaronson   From bridge roles to product thinkers

Charo Henríquez   Pivot to journalism

Sarah Stonbely   Mapping the local news ecosystem — with scale but detail

Meredith Artley   Huge demand for…anything but politics

Simon Galperin   After capitalism’s fire, journalism’s secondary succession

Mandy Jenkins   Fight the urge to run away from social media

Jonathan Gill   Publishers build a common tech platform together

Alberto Cairo   A year of uncertainty and confidence

Jonathan Stray   More algorithmic accountability reporting, and a lot of it will be meh

Millie Tran   There is no magic — you’ve got this

Angèle Christin   Algorithms and the reflexive turn

Josh Schwartz   A pullback from platforms and a focus on product

Manoush Zomorodi   Tech will do for information overload what it did for mindfulness

Seth C. Lewis   The gap between journalism and research is too wide

Sue Robinson   Reporters go on the offensive

Jake Shapiro   Podcasting is media’s slow food movement

Elisabeth Goodridge   Yes, they signed up — but our job’s not over

Monique Judge   Committing to the truth, calling out lies

Bill Grueskin   Toward a symphony model for local news

Callie Schweitzer   The rise of the conveners

Kristen Muller   Local news fails — in a good way

Eric Nuzum   The year of the DIY podcast network

Johannes Klingebiel   We all grow hooves

Alexandra Svokos   Good luck convincing us millennials to pay

M. Scott Havens   Time to swing for the fences

Don Day   Timewalls and other reader revenue experiments

Ariel Zirulnick   Participation gets professional

Soo Oh   Just showing our work isn’t enough

Geetika Rudra   The year of actionable (local) journalism

Lauren Katz   Community becomes a core newsroom value

Peter Bale   Venture capital runs out of patience

Cindy Royal   For journalism curriculum to change, its faculty needs disruption

Ben Smith   The pendulum starts to swing back

John Biewen   Podcasts keep getting better

Dave Burdick   Seeing our blind spots

Angilee Shah   The year news orgs say “yes” to real leaders

Matthew Pressman   The battle over objectivity intensifies

Heather Chaplin   Agree we’re partisan — for the democratic system

Jean Friedman Rudovsky   Cross-newsroom collaborations strengthen communities

Kjerstin Thorson   Time to get mad about information inequality (again)

Sarah Marshall   A return to destination journalism

Jonas Kaiser   Catching up with “Neuland”

An Xiao Mina   The death of consensus, not the death of truth

Dheerja Kaur   A focus on problems, not platforms

Celeste LeCompte   Local news needs local conversation to survive

Heba Aly   The rise of international nonprofit news

Kainaz Amaria   We consider who’s behind the camera

Betsy O'Donovan and Melody Kramer   The most beautiful sentence in 2019 is “No.”

Jesse Holcomb   We’ll get better at making the case for local journalism

Cătălina Albeanu   Being responsible for what we don’t know

Ernst-Jan Pfauth   Readers are only getting started

Tushar Banerjee   Interactive ads will be the new face of display advertising

Thomas Hanitzsch   The rise of tribal journalism

Taylor Lorenz   Personal branding is more powerful than ever

Umbreen Bhatti   The story doesn’t end for the people we quote

Elva Ramirez   News — but make it cinematic

Mandy Velez   Putting the social back in social media

Brian Moritz   The subscription-pocalypse is about to hit

Mario García   The rise of content “pilots”

P. Kim Bui   The misfits become the bosses

Matt Skibinski   Quality and reliability are the new currencies for publishers

Ernie Smith   The year we step back from the platform

Mat Yurow   Content competition from the tech companies

Tshepo Tshabalala   Ahead of African elections, unlock partnerships with fact-checkers

Matt Karolian   Publishers come to terms with being Facebook’s enablers

Jenée Desmond-Harris   It finally sinks in that some people aren’t white

Francesco Zaffarano   Towards a rethinking of journalism on social media

Greg Emerson   Power to the user

Seema Yasmin   We will create our own spaces

Darryl Holliday   Let’s talk about power (yours)

Logan Molyneux   Seeing social media for what it is

Tyler Fisher   This is journalism’s do-or-die moment

Elizabeth Jensen   Going where the Acela can’t take you

Steve Myers   From trying to cover it all to covering what matters

Jennifer Dargan   You don’t build diversity through one-off training sessions

Rebecca Lee Sanchez   We are all actors in the running rampant of political theater

Rachel Glickhouse   Newsrooms will prioritize audience needs

james Wahutu   Think 2018 was bad? Wait until you see 2019

Matt Waite   “I went to Node.js because I wished to live deliberately”

Rachel Davis Mersey   Local news goes minimalist

Zuzanna Ziomecka   News leadership gets an overdue upgrade

Candis Callison   Learn from Indigenous journalists on covering climate change

Rubina Madan Fillion   Fighting the reality of deepfakes

Knight Foundation   A year of local collaboration

Andrew Donohue   Voting rights becomes the new climate change

Sue Cross   Return of the water cooler

Rebecca Searles   From silos to Swiss Army knife teams

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams   Podcasting battles East Coast bias

Elite Truong   What do we owe the next generation?

Christa Scharfenberg and Vickie Baranetsky   The year of the lawsuit

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   A long, slow slog, with no one coming to the rescue

Robin Kwong   Tech shouldn’t be the only field pollinating “news nerds”

Chase Davis   We can acknowledge what we don’t know

Elizabeth Dunbar   Local reporters reflect on what’s not important

Tamar Charney   Seriously: What do you do for people?

Nico Gendron   Reaching Generation Z beyond the coasts

Stefanie Murray   Local news wakes up and starts collaborating

Craig Newmark   The end of “loudspeakers for liars”

Cory Bergman   Journalism as a technology service

Hearken   Pivot to people

Stephanie Edgerly   It’s time to understand the un-audience

Marie Shanahan   Newsrooms take the comments sections back from platforms

Gabriel Snyder   Journalism doesn’t fit well in a funnel

Ole Reißmann   The rise of vertical storytelling

Ruth Palmer and Benjamin Toff   From news fatigue to news avoidance

Elizabeth Bramson-Boudreau   A more sincere definition of “community”

Joanne McNeil   Building a digital hospice

Cristi Hegranes   A year to invest in the security of local journalists

Nicholas Jackson   More transparency around newsroom decisions

Claire Wardle   Forget deepfakes: Misinformation is showing up in our most personal online spaces

Joe Amditis   Give the audience a seat at the table

Frank Chimero   Leave the phone at home and put news on your wrist

Joel Konopo   Influencers become the new liberated power in Africa

Eric Ulken   The year you actually start to like your CMS

Carrie Brown-Smith   Advocating a healthy civic life is no journalistic crime

Libby Bawcombe   Haikus of the news

Amy King   We should listen to the kids (especially on Instagram)

Linda Solomon Wood   The year of the climate reporter

Rishad Patel   A design system for responsible publishing

Almar Latour   Reported facts, weaponized in service of action

Kyra Darnton   A shift to depth in video

Simon Rogers   Data journalism becomes a global field

Borja Bergareche Sainz de los Terreros   Entering a more balanced era

Andrea Faye Hart   Doing less harm, not just more good

Cherian George   Fake news wins in Asia

Adam B. Ellick   Video forensic reporting goes mainstream — and local

John Saroff   The pivot to reader revenue’s unintended consequences

Kelsey Proud   Journalism becomes the escape

Mike Caulfield   Ditch the media literacy cynicism and get to work

Michael Grant   More newsrooms experiment their way to success

Steve Henn   Smart speakers get smarter

Pia Frey   You can’t solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis

Rick Berke   The year of loyalty

Shalabh Upadhyay   A culture clash on India’s growing Internet

Errin Haines Whack   Say it with me: Racism

Jack Riley   Facebook refugees, from ad revenue to news habits

Kawandeep Virdee   Media wants to take care of you

Ståle Grut   A new dawn for 3D tech in journalism

Jim Friedlich   Meet Citizen Kane 2.0

A.J. Bauer   The coming splintering of conservative media

Tim Carmody   Unlocking the commons

Carolina Guerrero   Spanish-language audio blows up

Ben Werdmuller   The platform tide is turning

Victor Pickard   We will finally confront systemic market failure

Alexandra Borchardt   Newsrooms need to build trust with their journalists, not just the audience

Mike Rispoli and Craig Aaron   Government funds local news — and that’s a good thing

Salem Solomon   Correcting our corrections

Amy Schmitz Weiss   Local news isn’t where you thought it was

Whitney Phillips   Our information systems aren’t broken — they’re working as intended

Julia Rubin   Meeting people where they are

Joshua Darr   The nationalization of political news will accelerate

Andrew Ramsammy   The great re-pivot to audio

Nisha Chittal   The homepage makes a comeback

Zainab Khan   Publishers whose products can stand up to social media giants will win

Mike Isaac   The old exit doors for digital media companies are closing

Bill Adair   Another year fighting Trump’s falsehoods

Annie Rudd   A more intimate aesthetic of politics — on Insta

Nikki Usher   Three ways national media will further undermine trust

Jeremy Gilbert   AI finally becomes helpful

Francesco Marconi   The year of iterative journalism

Pablo Boczkowski   Reimagining the media for post-institutional times

Michael Rain   The year of the culturally relevant curator

Peter Cunliffe-Jones   The focus of misinformation debates shifts south

Talia Stroud   Engaging people across lines of difference

Nathalie Malinarich   Video — yes, video

Patrick Butler   Measuring impact will increase audience trust

Jared Newman   AI-generated fakes launch a software arms race

Adam Thomas   In Europe, foundations invest in news

Robert Hernandez   Racists and sexists get replaced

Moreno Cruz Osório   Damaged credibility and a new threat in Brazil

Kevin Douglas Grant   A year to embrace journalism as public service

Reyhan Harmanci   Selling more stories to Hollywood

Julie Posetti   The year of the fight back

Steve Grove   A reckoning for tech’s work with news

John Garrett   You can’t raise prices forever

Glyn Mottershead and Martin Chorley   When a tech company pulls the plug on your story

Dan Shanoff   Bet on sports gambling

Jesse Brown   Canada’s subsidy for news backfires

Renan Borelli   Developing loyalty means developing your talent

Emma Carew Grovum   The year of the loyal reader

Efrat Nechushtai   Journalism wants to be your friend, not your teacher

Zizi Papacharissi   Old interface, say hello to the new interface

Kate Myers   Journalism continues to be bad for democracy

LaToya Drake   Listen up: New stories, new storytellers

Masuma Ahuja   Make foreign coverage less foreign

Winny de Jong   Data journalism goes undercover

Heather Bryant   We are responsible for how we use our power

Renée Kaplan   Our future could lie within our own organizations

Carl Bialik   Fatigued news consumers will pay more for less news

Alyssa Zeisler   We expand what (and how and who) we serve

Alexis Lloyd & Matt Boggie   The year product leads media

Gideon Lichfield   Goodbye attention economy, we’ll miss you

Jeff Chin   We detox from Chartbeat