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CHAPTER IV - Conclusion & Recommendations

The Future of Civil Discourse
This problem is bigger than the news industry. The issue is civil discourse.

“We don’t know what the solution is to civil discourse being fact based,” said Joaquin Alvarado. “That’s a profound problem. It’s even worse than climate change. The planet will be here. Humans will not. That’s a few hundred years.”

“We need to get off the platitudes and start acting like ‘The Walking Dead’ here,” Alvarado said.
There is funding in the Gates Foundation, the Knight Foundation and other philanthropic sources, but they want to make investments that catalyze broad-based systemic change.

In the spirit of “The Walking Dead,” the Dialogue offers the following recommendations.

No. 1: Create national laboratories for journalism

Create a series of journalism laboratories across the nation that promotes collaboration, strengthens public-service reporting and expands distribution.

These laboratories would focus on creating collaboration among print, radio, online news, producing journalism and engage the community in the most urgent public issues that are critical to the future of a community.

These laboratories could focus on:

  • Identifying spaces where communities lack locally produced journalism and establishing a laboratory to engage the community and journalists on under-covered, urgent public issues.
  • Collaborations among nonprofit news organizations, legacy newspapers and technology companies.
  • Sparking use and spread of emerging storytelling tools such as 360-degree video, virtual reality and mobile platforms.
  • Building bridges between community and journalism organizations that break down the ivory tower that was erected around newsrooms and re-ignite the public’s investment in journalism.
  • Conducting in-depth investigative reporting that watchdogs public spending and elected officials. These laboratories would focus on obtaining and analyzing data sets to deepen journalism.
  • Leveraging national distribution and technology networks to spiral out journalism produced locally.
No. 2: Hold an annual Future of Journalism convening

Hold a national Future of Journalism convening to expand the Aspen Institute Dialogue, continue work on recommendations and conceptualize new recommendations as new threats to public-service journalism emerge.

While there are many annual journalism conferences that serve specific niche audiences within journalism, there is no gathering spot to bring innovative thinkers, doers and researchers across disciplines and silos.

A Future of Journalism convening needs more than journalists in the room: it needs regulatory officials, community leaders, technologists, data scientists, social scientists, systems thinkers, philanthropists and impact investors.

It needs the full diversity of representation as outlined in the Recommendation No. 3.

This convening can tackle the long-term challenges: how we build business models that sustain public-service journalism and emerging challenges such as the infection of fake news and the balance of power between social networks and publishers.

No. 3: Invest in human capital

News organizations need to make major progress in strengthening their human capital.

Human capital represents the collective resources of the people who work within our organizations. They include knowledge, experience, talents, skills, abilities, intelligence, training, judgment and wisdom held individually and collectively. These resources are an intangible source of wealth. Fully developed and managed, they are critical to delivering superior organizational performance.

There are a number of areas where continued progress is needed:

  • Diversity in race and ethnicity. The population of the United States is undergoing a rapid transformation. News organizations need to reflect that. Diversity enriches the ability of organizations to detect and reflect the various perspectives in society today. Racial and ethnic diversity is also imperative to ensure news coverage that is accurate and fair.
  • Diversity in class and life experience. The presidential election has highlighted the failure of news organizations to sense the depth of grievance in America’s working class. That may well be because so few people in our newsrooms have a true working-class background. Moreover, there are other experiences that can be especially valuable and in short supply. For example, very few individuals working in newsrooms have served in the military, an experience that is always relevant; but, particularly so when U.S. armed forces are so actively engaged throughout the world. In the end, the goal is openness to a wide range of perspectives and to intellectual debate.
  • Expertise in technology. Many American newsrooms are woefully ill-equipped to stay up to date with today’s technology. Few developers and engineers choose to make a career at journalistic institutions. And very few newsrooms have the technological talent pool that can make them fully competitive in today’s media environment. Some of this has to do with pay, and some of this has to do with the allure of industries viewed as more exciting and forward-looking. Both must be addressed.
  • Entrepreneurial spirit. Journalism is becoming an entrepreneurial enterprise. Innovation is key to success. No longer can a newsroom work without regard to business imperatives. While journalists must adhere to longstanding ethics standards and a commitment to the truth, they also must play a central role in achieving commercial success. Either within existing organizations or in launching new ones, journalists will have to be entrepreneurs. Newsrooms will need more personnel who possess that quality.
  • Command of data: To thrive, modern journalism must understand at a deep level the constantly evolving ways that people consume and use information. That requires news organizations also being sophisticated data organizations. This is essential to providing news and information that has value to citizens in an era when they have so many choices. A grasp of data is a requirement in the 21st century for journalism to do its job of helping people to self-govern.

These are some of the areas the group pinpointed as needing significant progress. But there may be others which further conversations could identify.

The group also recommended supporting incubators, training programs, scholarships and fellowships that target these underrepresented populations. To train them is not enough. We must also build networks that connect them to journalism opportunities. These opportunities could be at legacy news organizations, digital newsrooms or in the entrepreneurial media space.

No. 4: Build an Internet of Civic Things

An “Internet of Civic Things” goes back to the core proposition of journalism: equip citizens with the information and tools needed to self-govern in a democratic republic.

This starts with universal free broadband access to public information.

The public, and the journalists who serve them, need a foundation of public government information that is technically and price free. Technically free access to government would include a live video feed of all public meetings, archived video that can be accessed at any time, real-time transcriptions of those meetings, and open access to electronic records that can be saved and searched.

“Price free” means that broadband access to public data is a universal right. Anyone in Cleveland, Miss., should have access to what is being debated at the Federal Communications Commission, whether or not that person can afford $100 a month for a wireless data plan or cable broadband to their home.

News journalists could then build upon that universally free public information by providing analysis and context. Opinion journalists would build on that universally free public information and data by providing commentary. “Everybody in government, top to bottom, local to Supreme Court, they technically ought to make everything truly really public, not just pretend public,” said former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt. Not, “There’s a door and if you get in line early and knock you can get one of eight seats. It’s we put a camera here and we turn it on and you go on YouTube. You save it, you can search it. That’s technically public,” he added.

It is clear that the profession and industry of journalism is at impasse. The challenges outlined in this report — from disruptive technologies to unprofitable business models to a lack of diversity in newsrooms — have plagued journalism for over a decade. Now, after events post-conference, it is clear that the challenges are much deeper. Journalism now also finds itself battling for relevancy as readers’ distrust grows. Questions about truth, objectivity, fake news, misinformation and the role of journalism in our democracy are plentiful. While this Dialogue could not have predicted the current state of journalism, the discussions captured in this report suggest that within the challenges raised are also the solutions.

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