July 2, 2009

The Future is NOW: The Networked News Nonprofit

Journalism’s true strength in the Internet era is decentralized. It’s all about reporters — and reporting teams — working solo, but linking up in parallel to coordinate on stories, cross-promote, and share resources.

Parallel processing! Peer-to-peer networks. A network model harnesses the inherent strength of the Web as a medium, by providing a shared back office and standards of affiliation. This is the thesis behind Independent Arts & Media and Newsdesk.org.

Now, on a significantly larger scale, a collaborative of nonprofit news agencies is teaming up to create a new entity, the Investigative News Network, to take up their collective burden of business operations, fund development, and marketing/promotions.

Driving this is the proliferation of small to mid-sized nonprofit news bureaus around the United States. They’re cropping up in big cities and small towns. They’re tackling diverse issues and beats at the local, regional and national level. They have a variety of business models, publishing methods and partnership policies.

A glorious ferment! But resources are sorely lacking. Individually, these projects don’t have the financial and promotional clout to routinely achieve the impacts that a commercial media corporation can muster — even in today’s bruised and contused news economy.

Working in concert, it’s a different story. Resources are multiplied, as the diverse talents and resources of each node in the network are brought to bear on common issues.

Chief among those issues are the enormous challenges of social entrepreneurship in news media. Remember, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s Congressional charter is limited to broadcast. It’s the extremely low cost of publishing on the Web, rather than an abundance of charitable funding, that is driving the boom of professional, nonprofit journalism online.

Among these nonprofit bureaus, a sense of shared mission and challenge has at last caused some convergence on a larger scale. Yesterday, at the Rockefeller Fund’s Pocantico Conference Center in New York State, the attendees of the Building an Investigative News Network conference produced what I must say is rather thrilling document.

The future is NOW!

“The Pocantico Declaration: Creating a Nonprofit Investigative News Network”
July 1, 2009, Pocantico Conference Center, NY

“Resolved, that we, representatives of nonprofit news organizations, gather at a time when investigative reporting, so crucial to a functioning democracy, is under threat. There is an urgent need to nourish and sustain the emerging investigative journalism ecosystem to better serve the public.

“Recognizing, that there are many forms of potential collaboration …. “