Janet CoatsWhen Janet Coats worked as vice president of multimedia operations of Media General’s Tampa Tribune and WFLA-TV, she had to deal with the grim reality of cost-cutting to cope with the recession and a steep drop in advertising revenues.

Tough times meant round after round of layoffs – with no room for the kind of innovation necessary to meet the challenges of the digital age. “There's such a feeling that stakes are so high and you couldn't screw up,” Coats says. “If you tried and lost money, you'd have to lay off 15 more people. It's hard to take risks when you're in a defensive crouch.”

Now Coats wants to spend her year as a Donald W. Reynolds Fellow to help journalists rebuild that creativity and the appetite for risk taking by better understanding the new innovation networks that are emerging in the field. Coats, a consultant with the Patterson Foundation in Sarasota, Fla, plans to build on the research by two former RJI fellows, Lisa Skube and Michele McLellan. McLellan studied how small, start-up news operations are forming and reshaping community journalism. Skube worked to develop the Journalism Accelerator, an online forum and networking tool for journalism innovators.

In her role with The Patterson Foundation, Coats worked with both McLellan and Skube to take what they learned as fellows and develop that knowledge into ongoing initiatives. In doing that, she began to take note of the new ways that journalists are connecting outside traditional structures, creating nascent networks.

“We need to understand how the new networks are evolving,” says Coats, a 1984 graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism. “It will help us shape the response by foundations and educational institutions.”

In traditional media, ownership was the name of the game when it came to news coverage. In the digital age, there is a higher premium placed on leveraging stories, expertise and resources. The emerging networks are one way this leveraging is happening.

Coats intends to start her work by doing a “genealogy of networks,” both to understand the network landscape and to look for common elements of successful networking practices.

“If we can better understand why these new networks are evolving and how they best function, we can better understand the implications of this kind of sharing for journalists, journalism funders and educators,” Coats said.

Alecia Swasy  
Research scholar


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