Journalists build post-Facebook digital communities

“Let’s not have this be yet another time where we look back in 20 years and realize we threw away our shot.”

Facebook faces its most serious legal assault yet, with the federal U.S. government and nearly all 50 states suing the company for monopolistic practices. But if a court someday forces Facebook to break up, that by itself won’t spark alternative online platforms for people to connect and interact.

Those new digital spaces will still need to be built, and journalism organizations are in an ideal position to rally people to them. Let’s not have this be yet another time where we look back in 20 years and realize we threw away our shot.

We’ve seen what happens when social platforms lack focus and suffer from inadequate moderation and vague policies. They become echo chambers or toxic spaces. At worst, they devolve into incubators for mis- and disinformation that can sway elections or incite violence.

We need a reset. As we start over, new online communities must have clear focus and strong moderation based on transparent policies. Journalists — trained to distill ideas to their essence, connected to experts and influencers, and steeped in ethical standards — are well suited to create and foster these new spaces.

This doesn’t mean every media organization should try to out-Facebook Facebook, aiming to build the next billion-person social platform. Journalists should find niches where they uniquely add value, and where their brands and expertise can rally people together. For a local newspaper, that could be around a major hometown industry or hot-button issue. For a larger media company, it’s still about finding the smaller niches where they have license through their brand or editorial talent to gather a meaningful community with a unique perspective.

The technology to create social networks isn’t the barrier. The innovation will come from the creative constraints that media companies place on new communities. What is the fundamental unit, the “post,” that people will create on these networks? How will they be organized and classified? How can strong editorial moderation amplify and reward the best contributions? What unique “superuser” features should journalists have? How can members be empowered, and potentially rise to leadership roles?

For too long, people have associated social networks with a few dominant platforms. But the Internet as a whole is a fundamentally social technology that enables real-time communication across the world. Let’s not just keep shouting at people in one-way formats and blaming others for the problems. It’s up to us to build these better places.

Burt Herman is a product director at Condé Nast and co-founder of Hacks/Hackers.

Facebook faces its most serious legal assault yet, with the federal U.S. government and nearly all 50 states suing the company for monopolistic practices. But if a court someday forces Facebook to break up, that by itself won’t spark alternative online platforms for people to connect and interact.

Those new digital spaces will still need to be built, and journalism organizations are in an ideal position to rally people to them. Let’s not have this be yet another time where we look back in 20 years and realize we threw away our shot.

We’ve seen what happens when social platforms lack focus and suffer from inadequate moderation and vague policies. They become echo chambers or toxic spaces. At worst, they devolve into incubators for mis- and disinformation that can sway elections or incite violence.

We need a reset. As we start over, new online communities must have clear focus and strong moderation based on transparent policies. Journalists — trained to distill ideas to their essence, connected to experts and influencers, and steeped in ethical standards — are well suited to create and foster these new spaces.

This doesn’t mean every media organization should try to out-Facebook Facebook, aiming to build the next billion-person social platform. Journalists should find niches where they uniquely add value, and where their brands and expertise can rally people together. For a local newspaper, that could be around a major hometown industry or hot-button issue. For a larger media company, it’s still about finding the smaller niches where they have license through their brand or editorial talent to gather a meaningful community with a unique perspective.

The technology to create social networks isn’t the barrier. The innovation will come from the creative constraints that media companies place on new communities. What is the fundamental unit, the “post,” that people will create on these networks? How will they be organized and classified? How can strong editorial moderation amplify and reward the best contributions? What unique “superuser” features should journalists have? How can members be empowered, and potentially rise to leadership roles?

For too long, people have associated social networks with a few dominant platforms. But the Internet as a whole is a fundamentally social technology that enables real-time communication across the world. Let’s not just keep shouting at people in one-way formats and blaming others for the problems. It’s up to us to build these better places.

Burt Herman is a product director at Condé Nast and co-founder of Hacks/Hackers.

Jacqué Palmer   The rise of the plain-text email newsletter

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   Stop pretending publishers are a united front

Joni Deutsch   Local arts and music make journalism more joyous

Ashton Lattimore   Remote work helps level the playing field in an insular industry

John Davidow   Reflect and repent

Francesco Zaffarano   The year we ask the audience what it needs

Logan Jaffe   History as a reporting tool

Alyssa Zeisler   Holistic medicine for journalism

John Garrett   A surprisingly good year

Andrew Donohue   The rise of the democracy beat

Aaron Foley   Diversity gains haven’t shown up in local news

Jessica Clark   News becomes plural

Sam Ford   We’ll find better ways to archive our work

Julia Angwin   Show your (computational) work

Kristen Muller   Engaged journalism scales

Janet Haven and Sam Hinds   Is this an AI newsroom?

Joshua Darr   Legislatures will tackle the local news crisis

Hadjar Benmiloud   Get representative, or die trying

Ben Collins   We need to learn how to talk to (and about) accidental conspiracists

Nikki Usher   Don’t expect an antitrust dividend for the media

Pablo Boczkowski   Audiences have revolted. Will newsrooms adapt?

Zizi Papacharissi   The year we rebuild the infrastructure of truth

Cherian George   Enter the lamb warriors

Chicas Poderosas   More voices mean better information

Zainab Khan   From understanding to feeling

Amara Aguilar   Journalism schools emphasize listening

Renée Kaplan   Falling in love with your subscription

Bill Adair   The future of fact-checking is all about structured data

Rick Berke   Virtual events are here to stay

Charo Henríquez   A new path to leadership

Alfred Hermida and Oscar Westlund   The virus ups data journalism’s game

Moreno Cruz Osório   In Brazil, a push for pluralism

Rachel Schallom   The rise of nonprofit journalism continues

Danielle C. Belton   A decimated media rededicates itself to truth

Gabe Schneider   Another year of empty promises on diversity

Jim Friedlich   A newspaper renaissance reached by stopping the presses

Brian Moritz   The year sports journalism changes for good

Ben Werdmuller   The web blooms again

Beena Raghavendran   Journalism gets fused with art

Nicholas Jackson   Blogging is back, but better

Bo Hee Kim   Newsrooms create an intentional and collaborative culture

José Zamora   Walking the talk on diversity

Anna Nirmala   Local news orgs grasp the urgency of community roots

Chase Davis   The year we look beyond The Story

Jennifer Brandel   A sneak peak at power mapping, 2073’s top innovation

Delia Cai   Subscriptions start working for the middle

Garance Franke-Ruta   Rebundling content, rebuilding connections

Ray Soto   The news gets spatial

Parker Molloy   The press will risk elevating a Shadow President Trump

Tamar Charney   Public radio has a midlife crisis

Jeremy Gilbert   Human-centered journalism

Tonya Mosley   True equity means ownership

Ståle Grut   Network analysis enters the journalism toolbox

Steve Henn   Has independent podcasting peaked?

Jonas Kaiser   Toward a wehrhafte journalism

Laura E. Davis   The focus turns to newsroom leaders for lasting change

Talmon Joseph Smith   The media rejects deficit hawkery

Annie Rudd   Newsrooms grow less comfortable with the “view from above”

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams   The download, podcasting’s metric king, gets dethroned

Samantha Ragland   The year of journalists taking initiative

Matt DeRienzo   Citizen truth brigades steer us back toward reality

An Xiao Mina   2020 isn’t a black swan — it’s a yellow canary

Nico Gendron   Ask your readers to help build your products

Kerri Hoffman   Protecting podcasting’s open ecosystem

Meredith D. Clark   The year journalism starts paying reparations

Heidi Tworek   A year of news mocktails

Astead W. Herndon   The Trump-sized window of the media caring about race closes again

Tauhid Chappell and Mike Rispoli   Defund the crime beat

Nabiha Syed   Newsrooms quit their toxic relationships

Victor Pickard   The commercial era for local journalism is over

Jean Friedman-Rudovsky and Cassie Haynes   A shift from conversation to action

Pia Frey   Building growth through tastemakers and their communities

David Chavern   Local video finally gets momentum

Linda Solomon Wood   Canada steps up for journalism

María Sánchez Díez   Traffic will plummet — and it’ll be ok

Celeste Headlee   The rise of radical newsroom transparency

Tanya Cordrey   Declining trust forces publishers to claim (or disclaim) values

Doris Truong   Indigenous issues get long-overdue mainstream coverage

Mark Stenberg   The rise of the journalist-influencer

Masuma Ahuja   We’ll remember how interconnected our world is

Catalina Albeanu   Publish less, listen more

Errin Haines   Let’s normalize women’s leadership

Hossein Derakhshan   Mass personalization of truth

Megan McCarthy   Readers embrace a low-information diet

Loretta Chao   Open up the profession

Marissa Evans   Putting community trauma into context

Richard J. Tofel   Less on politics, more on how government works (or doesn’t)

Benjamin Toff   Beltway reporting gets normal again, for better and for worse

Mike Caulfield   2021’s misinformation will look a lot like 2020’s (and 2019’s, and…)

Anthony Nadler   Journalism struggles to find a new model of legitimacy

Sarah Marshall   The year audiences need extra cheer

Ariel Zirulnick   Local newsrooms question their paywalls

Michael W. Wagner   Fractured democracy, fractured journalism

Ernie Smith   Entrepreneurship on rails

Jennifer Choi   What have we done for you lately?

Jesse Holcomb   Genre erosion in nonprofit journalism

Kate Myers   My son will join every Zoom call in our industry

Ryan Kellett   The bundle gets bundled

Mark S. Luckie   Newsrooms and streaming services get cozy

Joanne McNeil   Newsrooms push back against Ivy League cronyism

Tshepo Tshabalala   Go niche

David Skok   A pandemic-prompted wave of consolidation

Imaeyen Ibanga   Journalism gets unmasked

Francesca Tripodi   Don’t expect breaking up Google and Facebook to solve our information woes

Don Day   Business first, journalism second

Raney Aronson-Rath   To get past information divides, we need to understand them first

Matt Skibinski   Misinformation won’t stop unless we stop it

Tim Carmody   Spotify will make big waves in video

Edward Roussel   Tech companies get aggressive in local

Andrew Ramsammy   Stop being polite and start getting real

Brandy Zadrozny   Misinformation fatigue sets in

Rodney Gibbs   Zooming beyond talking heads

Natalie Meade   Journalism enters rehab

james Wahutu   Journalists still wrongly think the U.S. is different

Taylor Lorenz   Journalists will learn influencing isn’t easy

Patrick Butler   Covid-19 reporting has prepared us for cross-border collaboration

A.J. Bauer   The year of MAGAcal thinking

Eric Nuzum   Podcasting dodged a bullet in 2020, but 2021 will be harder

Marie Shanahan   Journalism schools stop perpetuating the status quo

John Saroff   Covid sparks the growth of independent local news sites

Mike Ananny   Toward better tech journalism

Mariano Blejman   It’s time to challenge autocompleted journalism

Cory Haik   Be essential

Stefanie Murray and Anthony Advincula   Expect to see more translations and non-English content

Cindy Royal   J-school grads maintain their optimism and adaptability

M. Scott Havens   Traditional pay TV will embrace the disruption

Mandy Jenkins   You build trust by helping your readers

Sumi Aggarwal   News literacy programs aren’t child’s play

Jer Thorp   Fewer pixels, more cardboard

Robert Hernandez   Data and shame

Whitney Phillips   Facts are an insufficient response to falsehoods

Nisha Chittal   The year we stop pivoting

Shaydanay Urbani and Nancy Watzman   Local collaboration is key to slowing misinformation

Colleen Shalby   The definition of good journalism shifts

C.W. Anderson   Journalism changed under Trump — will it keep changing under Biden?

Burt Herman   Journalists build post-Facebook digital communities

Sonali Prasad   Making disaster journalism that cuts through the noise

Gonzalo del Peon   Collaborations expand from newsrooms to the business side

Cory Bergman   The year after a thousand earthquakes

L. Gordon Crovitz   Common law will finally apply to the Internet

Kawandeep Virdee   Goodbye, doomscroll

Marcus Mabry   News orgs adapt to a post-Trump world (with Trump still in it)

Sue Cross   A global consensus around the kind of news we need to save

Alicia Bell and Simon Galperin   Media reparations now

John Ketchum   More journalists of color become newsroom founders

Julia B. Chan and Kim Bui   Millennials are ready to run things

Rishad Patel   From direct-to-consumer to direct-to-believers

Basile Simon   Graphics, unite

Sarah Stonbely   Videoconferencing brings more geographic diversity

Nonny de la Pena   News reaches the third dimension

Rachel Glickhouse   Journalists will be kinder to each other — and to themselves

Kevin D. Grant   Parachute journalism goes away for good

Jody Brannon   People won’t renew

Sara M. Watson   Return of the RSS reader

Candis Callison   Calling it a crisis isn’t enough (if it ever was)

Ariane Bernard   Going solo is still only a path for the few

Christoph Mergerson   Black Americans will demand more from journalism