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.

Cindy Royal   Your journalism curriculum is obsolete

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

Andrew Ramsammy   The year ownership mattered

Borja Echevarría   TV goes digital, digital goes TV

Jennifer Brandel and Mónica Guzmán   The editorial meeting of the future

Mike Caulfield   Refactoring media literacy for the networked age

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

Andrew Haeg   The year journalists become relationship builders

Corey Johnson   The pro-fact resistance

Matt Carlson   Attacks on the press will get worse

Pete Brown   Push alerts, personalized

Paul Ford   Go global

Joanne McNeil   Gatekeeping the gatekeepers

Monique Judge   Letting black women tell their own stories

Justin Kosslyn   The year journalists become digital security experts

Rodney Gibbs   Tech workers turn to journalism

Richard Tofel   The platforms’ power demands more reporters’ attention

Dan Newman   A return to trust

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

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

Jennifer Choi   Standing up for us and for each other

Kinsey Wilson   Facebook and Google: Help out or pay up

P. Kim Bui   The reckoning is only beginning

Matt DeRienzo   A recession, then a collapse

Nushin Rashidian   Publishers seek ad dollar alternatives

Hannah Cassius   The year of the echo-chamber escapists

Jared Newman   Venture funding and digital news don’t mix

Kathleen McElroy   Building a news video experience native to mobile

Carrie Brown-Smith   Transparency finally takes off

Daniel Trielli   The rich get richer, the poor scramble

Mandy Velez   texting is lit rn, fam

Amy King   Let’s amplify visual voice

Miguel Castro   The arrival of the impact producer

Amie Ferris-Rotman   More female reporters abroad (please)

Matt Thompson   Here come the attention managers

An Xiao Mina   Memes and visuals come to the fore

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

Michelle Garcia   Navigating journalistic transparency

Umbreen Bhatti   The trust problem isn’t new

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

Dheerja Kaur   Fun with subscription products

Claire Wardle   Disinformation gets worse

Jassim Ahmad   Thriving on change

Mariana Moura Santos   Think local, act global

Ariana Tobin   Too tired to tap

Vivian Schiller   Pivot to tomorrow

Amy Webb   Listen to weak signals

Edward Roussel   Eyes, ears, and brains

Raney Aronson-Rath   Transparency is the antidote to fake news

Michelle Ferrier   The year of the great reckoning

Hossein Derakhshan   Television has won

Ray Soto   VR reaches the next level

Sydette Harry   Listen to your corner and watch for the hook

Michael Kuntz   The only pivot that might work

Kristen Muller   The year of the voter

Adam Thomas   Sharing is caring: The year of the mentor

Jake Levine   The return to now

Taylor Lorenz   Social and media will split

Nicholas Diakopoulos   Fortifying social media from automated inauthenticity

Sam Sanders   Shine the light on ourselves

C.W. Anderson   The social media apocalypse

Caitlin Thompson   Podcasting models mature and diversify

Pablo Boczkowski   The rise of skeptical reading

Niketa Patel   Live journalism comes of age

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

Frédéric Filloux   External forces

Mario García   Storytelling finally adapts to mobile

Juliette De Maeyer   A responsible press criticism

José Zamora   Revenue-first journalism

Raju Narisetti   Mirror, mirror on the wall

Sally Lehrman   Trust comes first

Doris Truong   Computer vision vs. the Internet vigilantes

Andrew Losowsky   The year of resilience

Nancy Watzman   Know thy TV

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

Renée Kaplan   The year of quiet adjustments (shhh)

Cristina Wilson   The year of the Instagram Story

Tamar Charney   We get serious about algorithms

Rick Berke   Value is the watchword

Basile Simon   We need better career paths for news nerds

Heather Bryant   Building the ecosystems for collaboration

Charo Henríquez   Training is an investment, not an expense

Nicholas Quah   Stop talking trash about young people

Manoush Zomorodi   Self-help as a publishing strategy

Damon Krukowski   Reviving the alt-weekly soul

Evie Nagy   Pivot to mobile video frustration

Betsy O'Donovan and Melody Kramer   Skepticism and narcissism

Kim Fox   Audience teams diversify their approach

Lucas Graves   From algorithms to institutions

Jarrod Dicker   Honesty in advertising

Federica Cherubini   The rise of bridge roles in news organizations

Monika Bauerlein   The firehose of falsehood

Kawandeep Virdee   Zines had it right all along

Mira Lowe   The year of the local watchdog

Sam Ford   The year of investing in processes

Corey Ford   The empire strikes back

Mariano Blejman   News games rule

Nathalie Malinarich   Peak push

Alice Antheaume   Are you fluent in AI?

Juleyka Lantigua   Women of color will reclaim and monetize our time

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

Emma Carew Grovum   Newsroom culture becomes a priority

Almar Latour   Conquering calm

Luke O'Neil   The end is already here

Joanne Lipman   Journalists inventing revenue streams

Tanya Cordrey   Finally, the seeds of radical reinvention

Kyle Ellis   Let’s build our way out of this

Ståle Grut   Reclaiming audience interaction from social networks

Francesco Marconi   The year of machine-to-machine journalism

Neha Gandhi   Filler killers

Jessica Parker Gilbert   Design connects storytelling and strategy

S. Mitra Kalita   The arc of news and audience

Mary Meehan   Real lives are at stake in rural areas

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

Gordon Crovitz   Serving readers over advertisers

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

Kelsey Proud   No, no, no

Imaeyen Ibanga   Longform video leads the way

Felix Salmon   Covering bitcoin while owning bitcoin

Tracie Powell   The muting of underserved voices

Joyce Barnathan   It will be harder to bury the news

Yvonne Leow   The rise of video messaging

Craig Newmark   Working together toward sustainable solutions

Nikki Usher   The year of The Washington Post

Mi-Ai Parrish   Blockchain and trust

Jennifer Coogan   The future is female

Alfred Hermida   Going beyond mobile-first

Dannagal G. Young   Stop covering politics as a game

Alexios Mantzarlis   Moving fake news research out of the lab

Matt Boggie   The intellectual equivalent of the Dead Sea

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

Steve Grove   The midterms are an opportunity

Julia Beizer   A longer view on the pivot

Elizabeth Jensen   Show your work

Rubina Madan Fillion   Unlocking the potential of AI

Trushar Barot   The Jio-fication of India

Zizi Papacharissi   Women come back

Cory Haik   Suffering from realness, pivoting to impact

Brian Lam   Sketchy ethics around product reviews

Lam Thuy Vo   Breaking free from the tyranny of the loudest

Feli Sánchez   The year for guerrilla user research

Alastair Coote   The year of self-improvement

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

Christopher Meighan   Passive partnership is in the rearview

Pia Frey   Address users as individuals

Eric Nuzum   Beyond the narrative arc

Tim Carmody   Watch out for Spotify

Ernst-Jan Pfauth   Publishing less to give readers more

Burt Herman   Things get real

Jim Brady   With the people, not just of the people

Mary Walter-Brown   Show a little vulnerability

Jamie Mottram   From pageviews to t-shirts

Carlos Martínez de la Serna   The new journalism commons

Will Sommer   The year local media gets conservative

John Keefe   Scooped by AI

Debra Adams Simmons   And a woman shall lead them

Caitria O'Neill   The new court of public opinion

Usha Sahay   Wallets get opened

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

Jacqui Cheng   Retailers move into content

Laura E. Davis   Writing answers before you know the question

David Skok   Finding an information-life balance

Sue Schardt   Jump the niche

Rodney Benson   Better, less read, and less trusted

Sarah Marshall   Loyalty as the key performance indicator

Bill Keller   A growing turn to philanthropy

Vanessa K. DeLuca   Women’s voices take center stage

Ruth Palmer   Risks will grow for news subjects — especially minorities

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon   Seeking trust in fragmented spaces

Marie Gilot   No assholes allowed

Lanre Akinola   Making noise is not a strategy

Emily Goligoski   Looking beyond news for inspiration

Rachel Davis Mersey   AI, with real smarts

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

Molly de Aguiar   Good journalism won’t be enough

Rachel Schallom   Better design helps differentiate opinion and news