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The innovative newsroom..

Last week, I got a note from someone who’d been following this project and the blog. They sort of summarized the lessons and ideas they were getting here. And they wanted to know if I generally agreed with their take. I did, and here is a copy of my e-mail that I wrote in response:

Thanks for your note. I think your reading is right on the money. There is definitely a push for journalists to learn new tools: video, audio, web. But in the larger framework, we’re being asked to re-invent our industry. And I think this is the biggest challenge in thinking about a new building.

If you look over the past 150 years, newspapers have been pretty static. But over the next 50 years, newspapers will be in a constant state of change. So people we’ve interviewed talk a lot about new reporters having the right “mindset.” They need to be able innovate, start-up, adapt. The funny thing is that most college media groups are just the opposite. In part, that’s because they’re not facing the same financial crisis, although eventually they will.

At my paper, the San Jose Mercury News, I’m on our Rethink committee: www.mercurynewsphoto.com/rethink . We’re being asked to come up with a whole new business plan and news organization. And the big question we’re asking is: How can we become the most innovative paper in the country?

For most newsapers, this creates big tensions, for the reasons you mention: Culture, resources, priorities all end up clashing.

Still, there’s an agreement on where newsrooms ought to go. They need to be entrepreneurial. They need to be fully integrated: broadcast, web, print. But in many cases, legacy facilities hamper those efforts.

I think that’s why many folks we talk to see The Chronicle as being in a potentially unique position. Getting to possibly imagine the ideal facility from scratch is something that just doesn’t happen often.

If you’re going to talk about how you make an organization more innovative, one of the big things people will point to is mixing in lots of different types of folks in an organization who will constantly help it think differently. That’s one reason we’ve reached out to other groups in this project: other campus media groups, ISIS, center for documentary studies, fuqua. One way to think about a more ambitious student media center is to think about spaces and programs where these folks are constantly interacting, collaborating, and sparking new ideas. I’d argue that will be vital for The Chronicle’s long term health and relevance.

None of this is easy. But it’s my hope that we’ll be able to lay out a vision of how this could happen.

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