The Future of Journalism today

The future of journalism relies on going outside the newsroom, partnering with computer scientists, business leaders, said Emily Bell, a Columbia Journalism School professor and journalist Thursday. Bell was the opening keynote for the Future of Journalism 2011 conference in Cardiff, Wales. I’m here to present a paper on nonprofit news.

All of Bell’s perceptions on journalism’s possible futures rely on cooperation with non-journalists. Normally a threat to newsworkers’ authority and business interests, collaboration with those “outside of journalism” is the only way to keep journalism alive and well – even during a time of decline within the industry, she said.

Google is a good example of what journalism could be — a branded information center — and one media should follow, Bell said. Not only has Google become an information powerhouse that news media wishes to be, but Google has become a major part of our culture. Google is a verb. It’s an authority. It leads us to legitimate areas of information and news.

Journalism struggles to gain – or to maintain – those same qualities.

There is at least one thing that journalism hasn’t lost, Bell said: Tenacity.

Bell said her students come to class energized to start new news outlets and to marry technology with storytelling. (I’ve seen this at Iowa, too.) Recently, Bell said, one student wanted to work with someone in informatics to improve translating software for journalists.

It’s that kind of collaboration that will keep journalism and media at the center of the spotlight, and these conversations is where journalism conversation should be focused, Bell said.

Asking questions about where journalism will be in five years is a waste of time if we aren’t thinking about changing what media look like by working with “non-journalists” to do journalism. (I agree. Indeed, I wonder what motivates that question. Why not ask where we could take journalism in five years? That’s a more powerful question.)

Since we are in England, it was especially salient when Bell discussed how the Guardian, where she once worked, which used mapping and data-gathering tools to cover recent riots in London.

With information about where crime was happening and why newspaper readers thought it was occurring, Bell said, journalists are working with academics to explore the meanings of that data. Any answers that come out of such analysis could contribute to deeper journalistic inquiry.

Another effort, this one at Connecticut’s Register Citizen, involves the public in its editorial and planning meetings via the Internet, Bell said.

Breaking down barriers between information, citizens, and newsworkers through technology may be where the future of journalism is.

You can see Bell’s speech here. Media scholar Robert McChesney speaks at the conference Friday.