A rich blend of options for journalism’s future

Here at the Online News Association conference, you’d be hard pressed to argue that journalism isn’t vibrant, relevant and in the midst of a period of true revival.

Like all conferences, some of the best conversations are going on in small groups huddled in the lobby or gathered around the hotel bar. Just walking around and running into people gives you a great sense of the great diversity of what is being tried – and how that is changing the game both for journalists and for the communities they serve.

In the space of one evening last night, I talked with grassroots entrepreneurs who are building community sites around their passion for service. I talked to other community publishers who are deeply concerned about the gaps – the underserved communities that aren’t attractive for advertisers and have a hard time building sustainable news sites.

And I sat around a table with folks from bigger organizations who are facing their own kinds of challenges. I congratulated David Boardman, editor of The Seattle Times and a longtime colleague of mine in the American Society of News Editors, on the amazing year his paper has had. The Times won the Pulitzer last spring for its coverage of the murders of four police officers – coverage that involved most of the staff and that played out in real time online and in thorough newspaper coverage as well.

Just as impressive to me, the Times also was named Innovator of the Year by the Associated Press Managing Editors for that coverage and for the networked journalism project they’ve been building. That project – something traditional news organizations across the country should be learning from – has the Times partnering with more than 20 community news sites around Seattle, leveraging the strengths of all to better serve the information needs of citizens.

Across the table from me, Jim Brady of TBD.com, this year’s most watched journalism startup, was talking about the challenges of that launch. TBD is a television and a website providing local news coverage of the Washington, D.C., area. Part of what makes it a site to watch is the impressive network of  nearly 200 local blogs and community sites it has built as part of its coverage plan, along with its smart use of social media.

One evening of listening to what all of these folks are concerned about and interested in felt like a master’s course in how journalism is evolving to meet new challenges and serve audiences in better, smarter ways.

It’s a rich blend, and one that makes me very hopeful about the power of journalism to inform, to engage and to learn.

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