Two prisms, two news brands

These two stories came across fairly close together, and they’re worth grouping here. One is a first-hand look at the direction Al Jazeera is heading. The other is a ground floor view of AOL’s Patch.

From the Nieman piece on Al Jazeera:

(I)t’s worth looking at his time at Al Jazeera because it’s likely the idea of “distributed distribution” will be one of his legacies as it played a role in transforming the website of the Middle Eastern broadcaster into a experimental online news operation in itself.

“We’ve done some great work over the years, especially the last two years with our coverage of the Arab Spring, and we built the website up to a place where I’m quite proud of it and quite happy both with the journalism we do and the form that we do it in,” Nanabhay told me.

Nanabhay has been with Al Jazeera more than 7 years, starting as the head of new media, a kind of digital projects division that allowed Nanabhay and his team to experiment with many of the things that are common practice at Al Jazeera English today: using social media in reporting and distribution, cultivating video from citizens, exploring the use of mobile tools for news. One of the biggest accomplishments during his time was the decision to allow Al Jazeera footage to be licensed under Creative Commons. As he prepares to leave two months from now Al Jazeera English is poised for more growth, establishing a foothold here in the U.S.: at least 40 percent of the traffic to Aljazeera.com comes from America.

The other article is an essay from one of the local editors of a Patch site, published in CJR:

Patch is relentlessly driven to refine and tweak its strategy to reach its goals, and it is entirely different now than it was in 2009. When I started, the organization was full of untested ideas, generalized performance targets, and grinding workloads. But it also offered local editors the unique opportunity to test content, prove their worth, and exert some influence on the editorial focus of the organization. For someone just establishing his journalism career, the fresh attitude and encouragement from the top was exciting.

Putting aside the uniform look of Patch sites at that time, we were given the opportunity to set our own work schedules and, more important, editorial priorities. Some editors focused almost exclusively on sports and schools, while others preferred hard news and politics.

[…]

No doubt the Patch model will adjust to market realities. It is still focused on that original goal of total community integration. The effort to find the balance between shoes-on-the-ground reporting and search-engine pop that aids profitability will result in sites that have a dramatically different character than they did even a year ago.

If anything, I think Patch’s trials and errors will show that online local news can be sustainable, even profitable, if you have good, hardworking journalists, a strategy to keep costs at a minimum, and a willingness to stick to what has made community news a staple across America for decades. It’s a challenge, and I wish my former colleagues the best of luck. 

There is a great, great deal more to that essay which defies excerpting. Do check it out.

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