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The Future Of News In The San Francisco Bay Area Is Here

San Francisco Magazine posted a story today that finds reasons for optimism called, “Newspapers are dead. Long live journalism!”

As part of the package of stories, the magazine also highlights work that design thinking firm IDEO has done to conceptualize some scenarios for what the future of news might look like. There’s a five-page spread mapping out IDEO’s work in print, dubbed “News Flash From The Future,” thoat can be found on the IDEO site. You can view the PDF version here.

I’m a big fan of design thinking and its potential to help point toward new solutions and opportunities for journalism. The news illustration created by IDEO tries to imagine how the connected, community-driven ecosystem of news will look:

The next four pages showcase two environments that put the future of news in the context of our daily lives. In these scenarios, we see that information has become even more personalized and hyperlocal—and, paradoxically, more communal, participatory, and global. Journalism is more like having a conversation. People speak with unique voices, take ownership of content, and establish credibility, which in turn enables strong communities in which news can thrive. Anything that’s notable to a person in a particular moment and place becomes newsworthy.

I certainly like the idea put forth hear of a news cafe that servers as a kind of community newsroom.

A couple other subtle points that I think IDEO gets right. People will be consuming information across a number of platforms in a number of firms (including print!). And people will want to contribute in a number of different ways, from heavy participants to casual contributions. We need to provide a full spectrum of opportunities for people to get involved at different levels. And mobile provides a particularly interesting way to enable those casual contributions.

The main story, by Nina Martin, begins by exploring the evolution of Albany Today, a hyperlocal blog started by Berkeley J-School grad Linjun Fan. I met Fan at a forum last year, and her story is indeed a great one, and increasingly common. Out of real sense of passion, she covers all the nooks of a Bay Area community that tends to be overlooked by the larger local media organizations:

Fan hearts Albany. The city council meetings (“Things like this don’t exist in my country,” she enthuses). The school-board president who’s resigning because she’s getting married and moving out of town (“She worked very hard for the community; I appreciate what she’s done”). Fan’s hyper local site, AlbanyToday.org, is the only news source devoted exclusively to the day-to-day issues affecting her 15,974 neighbors: teacher layoffs, emergency parcel taxes, the memorial service for the baseball coach who died of a heart attack, the citywide garage sale. Even lonely birds and ladybugs have their own section , “Moments of Beauty,” sandwiched between “Meet Election Candidates” and “News on Albany Schools.”

While recounting the usual litany of gloomy newspaper news, Martin finds inspiration in the story of Fan:

Yet when I consider what she has accomplished—part-time, for practically no money, with minimal institutional support—I feel something unexpected and unsettling: I think it’s called optimism. Maybe there’s another way of viewing the decimation around us. “You need to let the old dead trees burn down before the new ones can take root,” says media analyst and blogger David Weir, an old friend who has reinvented his journalism career many times in the 20 years I’ve known him. “What’s happening now is the equivalent of a massive mudslide or earthquake. But what grows up afterward is richness.”

The piece provides a good rundown of the emerging hyperlocal sites and innovative journalism projects in the Bay Area. But just as intriguing is a chunk near the bottom that explores how the San Francisco Chronicle is expanding online to become an ad platform for some of these hyperlocal sites:

As I put the finishing touches on this story, two things happen to make me even more optimistic. The first is word that SFGate is doing exactly what I’ve suggested—partnering with existing hyperlocal blogs and news sites, including A Better Oakland, to cover their communities. What’s more, Kevin Skaggs and Bobby Hankinson, the two guys overseeing the rollout, say that SFGate took the initiative and reached out. “There are exceptionally smart people out there doing incredible work,” Skaggs tells me. “SFGate can give them visi bility.” That’s fantastic news.

This is a great opportunity that all local newsrooms should explore.

One Response

  1. Thanks for the post and thanks for keeping us up to date on how IDEO is adding their perspective to fixing newspapers sooner, rather than later.

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