Where next? [credit: Kiosk Questions https://flic.kr/p/pUNgwk]

100 days of questions

Today is my second day at the European Journalism Centre. On January 1st, I’ll take over as the new Director.

Before I began, I reached out to a network of mentors and friends and asked them how I should approach my first 100 days. Most of them told me that, by asking a question, I’d already started.

They advised me that my first 100 days should be about listening and so I built a 100 days of questions agenda; a process that makes it as efficient as possible for me not just to ask questions, but ask the right questions.

My first big mistake

Yesterday, there were plenty of big questions for me too, from the team and our network.

  • What do you think is the role of journalism today and what impact does it have on society?
  • What’s unique about journalism in Europe?
  • What are the most exciting new ideas for journalism?
  • What role do social networks play in the future of news?
  • How do you see the EJC’s role in the changing media landscape?

And so I thought it would be a good idea to conduct an interview outlining my thoughts on a number of these topics. But no sooner had I sat down to draft answers, it very quickly became clear to me that I was about to make my first big mistake.

I realised that I was already doing the opposite of my plan; I was answering questions already. If my first 100 days needed to be spent listening, then I needed to ask questions, not answer them. No hot-takes, no opinion pieces, no late night tweetstorms from me… yet. Just lots and lots of questions on what people in news and other industries believe is possible, and necessary, for journalism.

So, here’s how I’m going to proceed…

Tap into the team

The European Journalism Centre is 25 years old next year. Many of the team here started as interns (always a great sign for an organisation!) and they’ve spent their entire professional careers creating events, training and technology for the world’s journalists.

My goal is to download as much of the knowledge contained in the hive-mind of our Maastricht and Brussels offices as possible. My first email to the team asked “where does journalism go next?”, and I’m spending the next two weeks in one-on-ones with each and every one of them to get their take on our organisation and the media industry it serves. That’s a great place to start to find out which questions we should be asking and answering.

source: http://giphy.com/usnationalarchives

Activate the network

Over the past weeks, I’ve been in stealth mode, staying under the radar and setting up as many meetings with journalism and technology professionals as I can. From established journalists to media start-up founders, and from advertisers to people working inside social networks. I’ve been looking towards commerce and art and science and transport and philanthropy and banking for ideas and advice.

Just like all those industries (and many more), journalism must change or face being changed. The internet is not good or bad, it is simply a different reality — one that traditional business models will not survive. So, to use the phrase of the day, we need to look both inside and outside the bubble to find the answers we seek.

Share the findings

Over the next 100 days, I’m going to be sharing these findings inside our team and publicly. There’s a phrase from software development that has stuck with me since the day I heard it:

Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.

The “many eyeballs” theory explains what most of us know to be common sense. Problems can be more readily identified when we can investigate the source code (or blueprints or DNA — choose your own metaphor). Moreover, when we allow lots of people from a wide community to do this, we can fix problems quickly and iteratively. Journalism needs this more than ever.

In an email on Monday, I invited the EJC team to…

“think stratospheric, ask impossible questions, challenge everything, and look relentlessly forward to a future for journalism and the EJC that extends forward years from now. These are vital times for journalism; nothing else will suffice.”

We’ve started work on that already, and I’d like to extend this invitation to anyone who wants to help. Here are four ways to get in touch:

  • Throw ideas and questions into the comments below
  • Reach out to Adam Thomas or @ejcnet on Twitter
  • Send me an email (thomas at ejc dot net)
  • Follow December’s News Impact Summit in Amsterdam online (tickets are unfortunately sold out) or join us in Paris in February.

If you can spare 30 minutes to give me your questions, I’d love to talk. Thanks for listening.