Carnivals and holiday trees, for journalists and technologists

By Steve Outing

I missed the last couple Carnivals of Journalism, but it’s time for me to get back into the groove. This month there is a question each for journalists and for technologists. My question is:

If you are a journalist, what would be the best present from programmers and developers that Santa Claus could leave under your Christmas tree?

I’ll overlook the pro-Christian slant (hey, what about under the FSM tree?!) and play the game.

What I’d like to receive is a written contract from some developers and technologist friends committing to spending a year of their time working on projects that are purely related to the betterment (or perhaps resurrection is a better word) of journalism and informing communities, utilizing the latest in technology developments and know-how.

Not to be too restrictive, they can work with me, my colleagues and students in the Journalism program at CU-Boulder, and/or journalists of all kinds in a variety of areas: New crowd-funding systems for news. … New forms of and platforms for crowd-sourcing. … New forms of storytelling that better engage news consumers, and that support making money from readers or users. … New algorithms to identify quality and credibility in news content, and filter out the best stuff (not just the most popular). … New systems to not only entice online and mobile users to pay for news and/or news-related services, but also make it easy and frictionless to make payments. (Could you build a Spotify for news, please?) … New algorithms to better mine the social-media stream (or more accurately, raging torrent of a river) for news which can be personalized to individual readers’ locations and/or interests. … Well, I could go on and on, but I’ll spare you.

The point is, developers, programmers, and technologists are in high demand. On my campus, our Computer Science Department is hammered with requests for partnerships and collaborations not just from Journalism, but from all manner of disciplines. If I could get a half dozen CS students to work with the Digital News Test Kitchen for a year, I’d be in heaven.

Out in the “real world,” technologists seem to have better things to do than concentrate on altruistic technology projects that serve to better inform communities or help clueless news executives adapt to the digital age. Where’s the potential big payout in that, after all? The promise of big money is everywhere except in the news industry, it would seem. Venture capitalists don’t want to invest in news ventures, for the most part, so why should individuals with in-high-demand technology skills work within a field where money is more likely to come from philanthropists and foundations than VCs?

Yet I know that there are some technologists who “get it” — who understand that journalism is in crisis; that the deterioration in quality journalism is immensely corrosive of our democracy; and that solutions for improving the sorry state of today’s journalism will require the expertise and effort of technologists working with journalists. I meet some such people at our local Hack/Hackers Colorado meetings. I read about them being part of the Knight Mozilla News Technology Partnership.

There just aren’t enough of them to go around. Certainly there aren’t enough technologists willing to pitch in their expertise to help journalists figure out how to get out of the mess we’re in.

So I’d like Santa, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or whoever puts stuff under my holiday tree to find a bunch of talented technologists looking for a challenge like leveraging emerging technology to reinvent a floundering industry which just happens to be vital to the future functioning of our democracy. Maybe they can consider it akin to serving in the Peace Corps for a year; they’ll do something important and good for society, before returning to the work where the money is.

Author: Steve Outing Steve Outing is a Boulder, Colorado-based media futurist, digital-news innovator, consultant, journalist, and educator. ... Need assistance with media-company future strategy? Get in touch with Steve!