Last week’s launch of The Bay Citizen, a San Francisco journalism non-profit that will, among other things, feed The New York Times’ Bay Area report, adds one more piece to a journalism mosaic that’s increasingly experimental, entrepreneurial and, dare I say, hopeful.
It’s pretty amazing, really, to see what’s emerged over the last several years. It’s the antithesis of journalism pre-1995.
Back then, news reporting mostly came in five basic flavors: newspaper, radio, TV, magazine, book. Now, enabled by technology, forced by the economy and in recognition of core declines, journalism’s finding a way forward in smaller, independent ways:
- Non-profits spinning up to handle investigative or regional journalism. ProPublica, with its recent Pulitzer, is one of the most prominent. But there’s also California Watch (from the Center for Investigative Reporting), Voice of San Diego, The Texas Tribune, Texas Watchdog and many others.
- Educators breathing life into investigative journalism, such as those at American University’s Investigative Reporting Workshop.
- For-profit, web-only journalism startups. Washington, D.C., has the soon-to-launch TBD.com from Allbritton Communications. The Faster Times bills itself as “a new type of newspaper for a new type of world.”
- Data, maps and stories targeted to the block where you live (Adrian Holovaty’s Everyblock).
- “Community-powered reporting,” where the public suggests and funds stories (Spot.us).
- Hundreds or thousands of bloggers and citizen journalists who are writing about their town or street — and organizations that aggregate or network them.
I call it a hopeful sign, even if some of it’s not brand new. While legacy journalism battles to refashion itself, and lays off thousands of skilled journalists in the process, from the wreckage emerges a hint of a rebirth.
Particularly encouraging: They often focus on investigative journalism or local coverage that’s been the victim of cuts at legacy institutions, and they’re making smart use of data and analytic journalism.
Whether these efforts thrive or fizzle will, I believe, be determined largely by the quality of the content they produce. But their emergence is good news, whether you’re a journalist fresh out of college or one who needs to reinvent yourself 20 years into a career. Or a reader.
Update, June 1, 2010: Check out this list of promising local news sites from Michele McLellan. There’s even more to this mosaic than you might realize.