State of the Spot + #jcarn’s future.

Spot.Us recently launched a new design, so this is an opportune time to write a “state of the spot” post — something we haven’t done since the website was six months old. I hope to lay out how far we’ve come and what’s on our plate and make a call to arms to the Spot.Us community and anyone else interested in the future of journalism.

In the two years since our site has launched, we’ve funded over 160 projects with the help of 5,000 contributors, a fifth of whom contributed more than once. We’ve done this in collaboration with 95 organizations, and our reporting projects have won eight journalism awards.

We’re pushing forward, but we need advice, ideas and support from the public. You can read more at the full “State of the Spot.”

Meanwhile, we’ve had two Carnival of Journalism blog-o-rama-fests thanks to the Reynolds Journalism Institute. They’re fun and exciting, but I want input from the participants here as well. There are two more #jcarns that I’m going to host. After that, I want a fair and honest way to give the emerging community control without losing the momentum that comes from somebody taking the wheels. Got ideas? Leave them in the comments.

3 thoughts on “State of the Spot + #jcarn’s future.”

  1. Dave: #jcarn is a great idea, though I doubt it’s sustainable. I wrote essays for your first two Carnivals of Journalism mainly because the questions you asked us to address hit squarely on some areas I’m working on. I’m overworked (and of course underpaid) and don’t have time to write extracurricula stuff, normally. Realistically, I doubt I will be able to keep up, and I suspect many others will fall off after an initial bout of enthusiasm. I’ve seen this so many times in my career with extremely worthwhile projects where enthusiastic unpaid volunteers are excited to contribute for a while, then tire of it.

    So… perhaps this discussion should steer toward how to keep the many smart folks who wrote essays for #jcarn’s 1 and 2 involved and writing. The success of #’s 1 and 2 actually was a negative for me; i.e., so many people wrote to address your questions that the chance of any individual #jcarn entry getting read was diminished by so many contributors. For me, at least, if I’m writing something for free — because it’s a topic I care about and have something I want to share with the journalism community — it doesn’t seem worth the time under these circumstances when I have so many other things on my plate.

    Sorry that this is negative, but I hope it can be turned into a positive discussion about how to motivate all of those who have valuable thoughts and experiences to share. I’ll throw out a couple quick ideas:

    1. Get Reynolds or Knight or someone to sponsor the Carnival of Journalism, and award prizes (money!) to the best contributions, judged by … I don’t know, Reynolds grad students or Knight employees during their lunch breaks. 😉

    2. Invite a limited number of people to write and rotate the slots month to month among the many bright people in our field, or open it to all but accept only the first 10 volunteers per month, or …

    3. Make the bar lower. E.g., I’ve been trying out at CU, with the Journalism School faculty/staff and the student-run news website. It’s a very interesting and potentially useful new form of journalist-audience interaction. Take a look at the VYou channel for our School: … What if for a future #jcarn, we’re invited to answer your question with VYou-like short videos? (VYou isn’t set up to accommodate this exact idea, but it demonstrates a way to publish a lot of answers to your questions with minimal commitment from free contributors, and makes it easier for readers than committing the time to read through 40 essays.

  2. So, I’ve got to throw in some thoughts here, knowing that they come from the admittedly naive position of youthful enthusiasm. As a 26-year-old unemployed–I mean, freelance–journalist, I am far from overworked. Actually, I’ve found the jcarn to be something that can inspire story ideas and meta-thinking about journalism in general. And for topics that I don’t already have something to say about, I enjoy the challenge of thinking about somethin new.

    So I don’t expect to tire any time soon. I’d even gladly volunteer to help keep it sustainable however I could. But again, we know where I’m coming from.

    Another thing the jcarn provides, especially for us youngens trying to make a name, is exposure to and networking with other journalists. Steve’s point about the overwhelming volume of responses is pertinent here; with so many responses–and so many of them overlapping–the reader tires, and it becomes harder to establish one’s self or make deep connections. So perhaps editorial decisions or competitions–which ideas are unique, which writers best express ideas that have recurred, etc–is necessary. This hits on something else I’ve thought a little about, inconclusively.

    I think there’s a tension between two values in journalism right now that I haven’t seen discussed much (and again, I’m young and naive–if this is an old conversation I missed, send me a link). On the one hand is the idea of editorship, for lack of a better word, and on the other is crowd-sourcing, for greater lack of a better word. Traditionally journalism has placed a high value on editorial skill, from copy editing and fact-checking to story assignments and final calls. And for good reason. Sure, it was/is inextricably tied to the “bundled,” printed product, but it has value beyond that.

    That value is in many ways directly opposite the editorial philosophy embraced by the web. We are all our own editors and curators now, from our RSS and twitter feeds to open carnival blogs. The web says put it all out there and let it flow where it may. Of course, the marketplace of ideas is older than the newspaper editor, but its iteration on the web is new. And it too is valuable. Very valuable.

    So how do we decide on which ethos to follow in which particular situation? How do we balance the tensions and values of the open web and the role of a great editor? That’s my suggestion for the next jcarn.

    Or, if that’s not popular, “how can we use online tools to make freelance journalism a financially sustainable career?” I think it’s not quite brown-nosing to note that we have a really amazing tool in Spot.Us, but we need more as well.

    And I also like Steve’s idea on cash prizes for the jcarn bests 🙂

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