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Thursday, December 2, 2010
Digital Media Toolbox

Remaining relevant in the digital age

By Daniel Axelrod

Editor’s Note: This column was adopted from the SPJ Digital Media Committee’s strategic report, “Will SPJ Remain Relevant in the Digital Age?” Download the report.

America’s oldest and largest journalism organization should become the news industry’s premier source of information on the latest technology, newsgathering approaches and business models. And SPJ should unite new media start-ups in a national network to foster communication and innovation.

Those were the top two of 10 recommendations in the SPJ Digital Media Committee’s new strategic report, “Will SPJ Remain Relevant in the Digital Age?” The committee, appointed by SPJ’s president, interviewed more than a dozen media experts to advise the 101-year-old Society on how to stand out among more than 90 national journalism organizations.

After a year of work, the committee recommended that SPJ:

1. Bridge the divide between new and old media by aggregating and spotlighting high-quality journalism and facilitating communications among online start-ups and legacy media.

2. Create a vibrant network for new media start-ups to share ideas online and in person.

3. Take stands on hot-button digital media issues affecting the future of information sharing. Become an advocate for expanding access to the Internet, news and information.

4. Teach reporters to use powerful emerging technologies, including software, websites and gadgets capable of providing greater depth to stories and increasing public participation.

5. Educate members and citizens in the basics of journalism because proper information-gathering and storytelling techniques are more important than ever in the digital age.

6. Engage journalists and the public in a robust dialogue about the purpose, value and standards of journalism. Build public understanding of and trust in journalism, and educate citizens so they can practice journalism ethically.

7. Train media start-ups in entrepreneurial journalism by hosting seminars, producing regular magazine articles, creating convention programs and providing training opportunities on a wide variety of topics such as sales and Web development.

8. Teach journalists and their managers the theories behind why they should use new media technologies and examples of best practices, rather than just providing lessons about how to use equipment.

9. Ensure staff and leaders are hyper-literate in digital journalism trends and new media theories so they can anticipate what members will need to know.

10. Poll membership to determine and address journalists’ needs, and track and respond to the journalism industry’s direction.

“SPJ could be a bridge between what is, what has been and what’s coming,” said media analyst Ken Doctor, who thinks the news industry also craves a signifier of journalistic quality. “SPJ could be a town square for new and old media.”

It’s especially important that SPJ teach new technology to help reporters simplify concepts for readers and grow closer to the citizens who can help journalists gather and make sense of information, said new media expert Clay Shirky.

“Technology has offered incredibly simple, powerful tools that have turbocharged journalism,” Shirky added. “For SPJ, making journalists aware of the new super powers that are available to them would be an enormous service.”

But if SPJ is to implement the report’s recommendations, the Society needs to make a cultural shift toward new media, journalism industry consultant Amy Gahran wrote in a late-October blog post about the SPJ Digital Media Committee’s work. Gahran’s post appeared in “News Leadership 3.0,” the Bay Area-based Knight Digital Media Center’s blog.

SPJ needs to expand its digital media knowledge and broaden its goals beyond upholding core journalistic values, Gahran added. She thinks SPJ should collaborate closely with a broad range of stakeholders inside and outside the media.

Potential collaborators include other journalism organizations and groups “that focus on technology, information sciences, libraries, business, entrepreneurship, community-building, advocacy, wireless carriers, mobile developers, marketing, education, government 2.0, social justice (and) campaigning,” Gahran wrote.

To SPJ Executive Director Joe Skeel, “the question to ask is, ‘Does SPJ want to be the organization that takes a lead role in fostering the future of journalism?’”

“I think we’ve been content to simply take the role of ensuring our members are ready for the future of journalism,” Skeel added. “With that said though, we still do consider ourselves the leading journalism organization in the country.”

Daniel Axelrod is past vice chairman of the SPJ Digital Media Committee.

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