A new role for journalism organizations

Labels are limiting. Especially when it comes to professions undergoing massive change.

ona_logoThat thought occurred to me at a gathering of some 35 people who shared stories and drinks at the Lucid Lounge in Seattle last night. It was an informal meetup organized by members of the Online News Association and it made me wonder what role professional organizations like the ONA will play as this new information ecosystem turns the old professional classification of “journalist” inside out.

After all, what new label do we give thousands of passionate, industrious people engaging in new media in order to inform an audience, but don’t work for a news company?

What constitutes  journalism in a new age where technology has opened the floodgates for information, reducded resources and erased the constraints of time and space?

spjA few days earlier at a different bar in Seattle, members of the Society of Professional Journalists held a similar gathering. And a month ago, a local independent journalism entrepreneur hosted a more formal gathering for a group think/discussion on the topic of hyperlocal media. Some of the now-famous Seattle neighborhood newsbloggers attended and the discussion was thought-provoking. And Seattle is home to many other grassroots gathering on the topic of local news, especially in the wake of the P-I announcement.

Whether still working at a mainstream news organization, or working on a startup idea, or making a go of it on your own with a hyperlocal blog, this is a steep hill to climb. So there is still a need for information sharing and networking among people all pursuing the same calling, probably now more than ever.

Seems to me that professional organizations like ONA and SPJ have a decision to make: how do they move forward when the big companies that provided financial support are floundering and yet there is a surge in “nontraditional” journalists who either used to work for a news organization or are performing journalism through blogging?

Here’s what I recommend:

1. Inclusive networking: It is my impression that ONA has benefitted from a recent surge memberships from academics. Next up is the independent news startups and local bloggers, but organizations like SPJ could be going for them, too.

2. Partner with other organizations: ONA, SPJ and other local  and national organizations need to work together to host events. Money is tight for all organizations right now, so leveraging the resources of other organizations will give more bang for the buck. (Consolidation might be around the corner, too.)

3. Workshops and skill training: The demand for new skills training in digital media keeps growing. So does the the supply of knowledgeable practitioners. So why does it seem like there are less opportunities than there were just a couple of years ago? Organizations should be working together to provide local and regional training to anyone and everyone.

Many big news companies – formerly fierce competitors – are coming together to join forces in this new era. Professional media and journalism organizations should follow suit.

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