Using Old School Journalism as a Bridge to New School Media.

You won't hear many people in the 18-35 age bracket arguing for the tenets of the old school way of doing news and media. But while much has been written about the death of the newspaper, I think that the tenets of the old school media mindset are more important than ever. People still value conversations, and they are still drawn in by people whose names they know, talking about exciting ideas. But as people from Douglas Rushkoff to Al Gore have noted before, the new generation of media consumers want to be more than watchers and listeners. They want to be contributors.

The strength of the 2.0 world is the weakness of previous media: television, radio, and print are all - in some sense - one-way mediums, and as a result are all one-way discussions. They are handed down to the consumer, who has limited or no way to push back on ideas, and thus finds him or her self passively absorbing where they should be engaged and thinking.

At the same time, the 2.0 world can be a daunting place for many people, mainly because of its size and scope. There are so many places, so many instances, which become large, open-ended information dumps. For open source sites like Wikipedia, the enormous scope of the project is supported on the backs of a volunteer army, a “thin nerd line”, as Harvard’s Jonathan Zittrain likes to call it. This group of hard core dedicated internet activists provides a method for keeping the Wikipedia going, in many cases simply because they were excited by what the technology could represent. Regardless of the ideas expressed, they wanted an internet encyclopedia to work, and they wanted the masses to be the ones that drove it.

But how to create them for your project? How to duplicate that dedication, tap into that passion, generally get the people you need on board?

The answer, at least in part, is to engage an audience other than the thin nerd line. Clearly, people are motivated by the right combination of "new" and "useful" that Wikipedia represents. But here is where the connection to the Old School returns. There is still a role for people with an editorial voice; still a role for strong discussions and well-produced videos, because those tools are still useful for drawing in an audience that is not dedicated to the web for the web’s sake. People who are passionate about their issue (or issues) bring with them the energy and the know-how to make a 2.0 site (filled with wiki’s and chat boards) really sing. But they don't bring with them a desire to go to the web and take up the banner to defend it against all comers. (Side note: you should take a look for a moment at the moderators page of Wikipedia. It's truly shocking how much work people do to keep that site up and reliable.)

How, then, does this relate back to the world of giving? It’s not a one-to-one relationship… yet. But I think it’s going to become one: folks that master the two-way nature of the web will be successful non-profits in the same way internet users have become kings of the for-profit world. For me, it’s all about groups that push for new and interesting ways to share what they do. PhilanthroMedia is working to discover the perfect nexus of old and new media, because we think that groups that are opening themselves up to the wisdom of the crowd are going to be better organizations in the long run.

If people can be drawn in and motivated by produced pieces, by videos, by spoofs, by “old” journalism techniques to attract eyes, then they have the information and the motivation to dip a toe into the giant ocean of web 2.0. And we believe that once they dip that toe in, they are going to like the water.

Alan Smith

Posted at 1:24 AM, Dec 02, 2008 in Accountability | Blogs | Intergenerational | Nonprofit Management | Philanthropic Strategy | Streaming Media | Technology | Permalink | Comment