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Technology and Media: "You’ve Got to Have Faith”

by Craig Gustafson

Nieman Journalist Shines Light on Tech Opportunities for Media.

What does the future for media hold? The answer is hard to provide without reaching for one of a dozen familiar clichés.

In the 2013 MMPA Summit & Expo’s first editorial track session, Justin Ellis, assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University, sidestepped the cliché trap by invoking the space exploration era of the 1960s.

“I like to think of the space race,” he said, comparing the technological advances and degree of uncertainty in the industry to the excitement, challenge, and uncertainty experienced by Americans during that period. As the space race developed from airplanes to rockets to satellites and then to animal passengers, manned missions and a moon landing, so too has media advanced from newspapers and magazines to radio, television, Internet, and mobile platforms.

“You have to be an inventor and re-innovator,” he advised while urging media professionals to use their imaginations—and challenging readers to use theirs, too.

It is no secret that today’s media consumption is a fragmented landscape, with readers choosing to gather information from seemingly unlimited sources. Ellis suggested that organizations explore these questions that will influence how they compete for attention:

  1. Ability—What skills, experience, knowledge, and talent do you bring to bear? What are you capable of creating?
  2. Resources—What assets can you bring to bear and what defines the scope of your media enterprise? What can you build?
  3. Faith—You have to believe that you are going to be able to thrive and it is all going to be all right. Can you?

Once you move forward technology is providing many options to explore according to Ellis. The following is a list of examples and organizations that are doing them well:

  • Subscription eBooks—Toronto Star (thestar.com)
  • eNewsletter—Politico.com
  • Database and News App Reporting—Propublica.org
  • Audio Journalism/Podcasts—Slate.com
  • Web-Native Media—Buzzfeed.com
  • Longform Journalism—Atavist.com
  • Apps—Circa (cir.ca)
  • Video—HuffPost Live (live.huffingtonpost.com)
  • Events—Texas Tribune (texastribune.org)