By Steve Outing
For this month’s Carnival of Journalism, ringmaster David Cohn asked something I wasn’t sure I wanted to answer. But I’ve got a solid track record participating in the resurrected Carnival so far, so I decided not to break my streak.
Cohn asked us to give advice to either the Knight Foundation about its next steps (as the 5-year-old Knight News Challenge ends its run, and a new vice president arrives) or the Reynolds Institute at the University of Missouri about its fellowship program.
Since Knight turned down all three Knight News Challenge submissions from my program at the University of Colorado Boulder (including one I thought was and is damn good and important for the future of journalism credibility and accountability!), I’ll pass on Knight in case any disappointment-inspired bias might spill out in my words. So Reynolds it is!
As Cohn (a Reynolds fellow himself) noted, the program is only four years old. It’s not as big and doesn’t accept as many fellows as, say, Stanford’s renowned Knight Fellowships program. Therefore, the program is still shaping itself. Cohn asked:
1. How would you shape the fellowship to drive innovation?
Because the program is small, I’d narrow the focus significantly. In fact, for each fellowship year, I’d pick a theme and find fellows who all wanted to work on complementary aspects of the theme. Let’s say for the next crew of fellows, select all of them because they want to focus on variations on a theme of “business models for journalism in the digital age.” Next year, I’d pick a different theme. The key would be that the theme is the most important challenge or opportunity facing journalism at the time. Business models for journalism addresses solving a big problem for the news industry and for journalists who want to make a living. A theme that could address an opportunity instead of a problem would be best utilizing emerging mobile technologies in the news realm.
Such an approach is less appropriate for a larger fellowship program, like Stanford’s, which takes on 20 fellows each year.
2. What types of fellows should they be looking for?
If we go with my answer to No. 1, then I’d say find a mix of fellows from multiple disciplines who can work together to address the year’s theme issue or opportunity. If the theme is business models for news, then, of course, bring in a business expert who perhaps is not a journalist but has a strong interest in publishing business models. Or an economist. Or a marketing guru. Don’t invite in as fellows people who don’t know or care about the news industry, but rather individuals who want to engage and can work well with the journalist fellows. One word is key: interdisciplinary.
3. What types of fellows should they avoid?
Pure journalists. I’d much rather see Reynolds recruit journalists who also hold MBAs, or are extremely competent technologists. Avoid one-dimensional journalists. And especially, avoid anyone who doesn’t believe with 100% of their being that in the media of today and the future, digital is at the center of things and is the control hub for any media or news organization.
4. What programs should the fellows go through in order to drive innovation?
Bring in lots of outside experts to get the fellows thinking beyond the confines of journalism. If mobile is the theme, bring in mobile industry leaders and force them to shift gears and think with the fellows about how the news industry can leverage emerging mobile developments that the industry leaders are working on today. Bring in entrepreneurs who may not be focused on news and journalism as a market opportunity, yet who are building digital products or services that have significant potential for news; force them to focus on news applications, and let the fellows lobby the entrepreneurs to put some thinking and resources into addressing news problems and opportunities.
Get the fellows to roam the university, finding partners in other disciplines to assist them in thinking through and developing innovative news-beneficial projects that cannot be done by journalists alone. If any of the journalist fellows come out of the program with any old journalistic dogma still in their heads, the program will have been a failure.