The world of Journalism is in a world of pain. It’s having a severe identity crisis, caused largely by the fact that it’s readers and viewers are behaving like A.D.D – stricken kids and jumping from one new device to another to be entertained and informed. The chaotic and exciting world of changing technology has captured the hearts and minds of everyone, and given them an entirely new set of expectations about how frequently and easily they can access news and entertainment, and how easily they can access marketplaces for things they want to buy and sell.
Combine all that with a rotten economy that has cut advertising expenditures in general, and you have a perfect storm threatening the world of journalism, particularly on the local level.
While it’s truly becoming a wonderful world of media, and while people are consuming more of it than ever, those who are in the business of creating that content are perplexed and confused. The rules of their world have changed and are continuing to change with each new development, which could be anything from the rapid adaption of mobile devices as sources of news, information and entertainment to the dramatic rise in alternative delivery systems and platforms for high-quality video content.
So along comes the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to help fill the growing breach between consumer demand for local journalism and the diminishing ability of traditional news sources to serve that demand. The Knight foundation is supporting, through several initiatives, a large number of projects designed to bring targeted, valuable news and information to audiences everywhere.
the latest round of Knight initiatives were announced yesterday (Sept. 21, 2011) in San Francisco. As part of a larger effort called the Knight Community Information Challenge, community foundations around the country were invited to propose projects that would help grow new outlets for local news and information. Yesterday, Knight announced 19 grants totaling $2.26 million dollars.
A New Orleans group is going to increase coverage of and oversite into charter schools there. A Lexington, Ky. entry promised to encourage healthy eating and lifestyles. In rural Puerto Rico, where unemployment runs as high as 40%, a community foundation will attempt to increase the information available to those seeking jobs and give small businesses tips on how to create jobs, get permits and manage projects.
Three different foundations in Denver and Atlanta are developing ways to make government data far more available and useful to local people and businesses that could use it.
Still other projects more directly involve training and deploying more locally-based professional journalists, and sharing their experiences with each other. A Vermont website was funded to hire an investigative reporter to cover health reform and energy issues in the state. A Winnipeg, Canada, foundation was given money to train, engage and empower citizen journalists in places where professionals rarely go.
In the end, quality journalism has to survive as a self-sustaining industry. But efforts like these and the thousands of others across the country to fund serious journalism with contributions are helping preserve the best elements of our profession. That is an awesome task.
But we in Journalism will have to be able to stand on our own two feet and follow our own instincts on what stories to follow and not worry about whether or not there is enough money to do the things we HAVE to do.