Begin change with choice

Jeff Jarvis points to a journalist frustrated by his organization's lack of innovation and asks "how do we get the past and future to meet"?
Written by Mitch Ratcliffe, Contributor

Jeff Jarvis, in The ghosts of newsrooms present and future, quotes Tim Porter, who quotes David Hawkins of the Newark Star-Ledger:

I would love to embrace the future if someone would come up with a good plan at my place…..

So I complain after a fashion. I tell the people in charge, when they will listen, and my colleagues, when they aren’t rolling their eyes, that we have to change now. I cite proofs and examples. I admit to not having a lot of answers, but offer up what I’ve got, often focusing on how they could be done with little money and no additional personnel.

I’m all for creative solutions. But I am beginning to think I will have to pursue them elsewhere. And I hate that thought.

Jarvis responds, adding: "I hate that thought, too. This is an authentic voice of the newsroom today, of a love for journalism, and of the need for change and that is incredibly valuable. The question is how we get the present and future to meet." 

I frequently take Jeff to task for his blanket dismissal of the news process, even though both of us left news organizations at various points in our careers to pursue change. The news process that journalists are passionate about remain the best way to deal with conflicts of interest—if actually practiced and protected from the system that publishes news. We need it, just as Jeff says.

There are many ways to go about making change happen, leaving as Jeff and I have, and instigating change from within, which has been done most recently with mixed success at places such as the forums section of the New Orleans Times-Picayune (albeit, the NOLA case is a process catalyzed by the total upheaval of local society). Any success, however, is a step in the right direction.

There is no alternative to exercising choice. One can't wait for someone to come up with a good plan, because everyone can wait for that forever. I concur that the anguish expressed by David Hawkins is critically important to the future of the journalistic endeavor, but it isn't happening in a vacuum. Hawkins' comments in the midst of rapid and massive change. He'd better make his decision if he wants to lead the way.

Jqrvis says we have to make the present and future meet. This missed the key factor in successful change: The past, which is full of lessons, is the foundation for a conversation between the present and the future. If you exclude (good and bad) lessons from folks like Ben Franklin, William Randolph Hearst, H.L. Mencken, Ring Lardner, Ben Bradlee, Hunter Thompson and many others who made choices that changed their companies and journalism, it will appear that change is embracing the unknown.

Change is a calculated risk, not a blind leap, for those who know history. Jump in, the water's fine. 

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