Journalism, as we all know, is in a historic period of transition. And so it's no surprise that foundations with an interest in journalism — particularly Knight — are attempting to think outside the box. The foundation embraces (with caveats, of course) "hackers" and believes that studying the minds of video game designers can make for better journalists.
But Knight isn't alone in its experimental thinking. The MacArthur Foundation recently formed a partnership with the Independent Television Services (ITVS) to "encourage collaboration between journalists and indie filmmakers."
Most partnerships are founded on the presupposition that each side lacks something that the other can provide. For Knight, hackers provided cutting edge technical skills while video game designers excel at weaving together a compelling mix of context, goals, challenges and rewards.
So, what can journalism gain from tapping the experience and skills of indie filmmakers? In short, filmmakers, more so than journalists, know how to tell stories.
In an example of how this partnership will play out in the real world, the Washington Post will select and offer ITVS videos on PostTV, its online television channel, while also periodically suggesting content themes for the video pipeline.
"While journalists excel at breaking news, independent filmmakers illuminate the personal, human stories behind the headlines,” said, president and CEO of ITVS and executive producer of PBS doc series Independent Lens, in a statement.
Ms. Jo Fifer has a point. A journalist's job is to present — and we're paraphrasing Dragnet's Joe Friday here — "just the facts, ma'am." Of course, journalists can certainly embellish and frame their work within a larger narrative, but they're oftentimes restricted from dabbling in more overt subjectivity (just ask Brian Williams). Indie filmmakers, of course, have no such inhibitions.
Ultimately, this partnership signals a concerted effort to make the news attractive to an ever-distracted, yet increasingly technologically savvy public. Readership has fragmented across countless outlets, blogs, and social media sites, and at the most fundamental level, news outlets are exactly where they were 50 years ago. They need to attract and retain readers.
And if indie filmmakers can provide much-needed production values, technical expertise, storytelling acumen, and most importantly, good old-fashioned content to meet this goal, then who knows? Maybe journalists won't need video game developers after all.