By Jarre Fees
The Poynter Institute will use a recent $750,000 grant from the Ford Foundation to expand its Sense-Making program and other initiatives that focus on how the public consumes information, how journalists collect and disseminate news and how to increase responsibility and sustainability, particularly in the nontraditional news sector.
Poynter, which started the Sense-Making initiative in 2009 with an earlier grant from the Ford Foundation, will work with several outside organizations, including the News Literacy Project, a program that pairs experienced journalists with middle school and junior high students to show them how to discern fact from fiction when listening to or reading the news.
“We want to provide people with tools to make the news transparent,” said Kelly McBride, ethics group leader and lead faculty for the Sense-Making program, “and create a place where people can have conversations about what’s being reported.
“We want citizens to ask, ‘Who funded this? What’s their motive?’”
In addition to educating the public, Poynter will continue to collaborate with and nurture freelancers, bloggers and other nontraditional entrepreneurs and journalists, educating them about accuracy and ethics in reporting.
“In the old system of journalism in the U.S., a certain amount of information was generated every day,” said McBride, “and the facts were reported every day, mostly by newspaper reporters and local TV news.
“A small number of people dealt in opinion and repurposing,” she said. But since the advent of cable TV and the explosion of digital publishing, “the number of people collecting news has decreased significantly, and the number of people who are repurposing has exploded.”
Recognizing the problems inherent in the new digital arena, Poynter has set out to find a way both to increase the accuracy of the news and enable journalists to make a living.
Bill Mitchell, who heads the News Transformation initiative, also funded by the Ford grant, said his project will focus on those members of the fifth estate who are without journalism experience but who are “committing acts of journalism.”
“We want to deal with the ethics of moment-by-moment publishing, and provide the tools for people who have digital-media ideas but lack journalism sourcing,” he said. “We’ll also be looking at emerging technologies, including new platforms like the iPad.”
Mitchell said the Institute would look at how existing news organizations “are transforming themselves. Consumers need and want to move forward and sustain these organizations,” he said, “and we can provide some tools to get it done.”
Poynter plans to implement a model entrepreneurial startup to educate bloggers and freelancers. The Web site (www.poynter.org) already lists a position for a Ford Fellow who can teach entrepreneurial journalism, and also maintains employment listings for digital and traditional journalists.
The Ford grant will allow “one or more journalism startups to help journalists add sustainability to their toolbox,” Mitchell said.
While there are “fewer resources in newsrooms,” McBride said, “we have every reason to believe that over the next 10 years, larger news companies will stabilize.
“Some of them will have partnerships. Some of them will come to work with an agenda or an advocacy role. Some will come with a political approach, and some will come with a more traditional, nonpartisan approach.”
The Sense-Making initiative, she said, will help “the smaller companies and individuals who will fill in the gaps.”