We’re pleased to announce that, with funding from the Ford Foundation, Dot Connector Studio and the Guild of Future Architects (GoFA)are launching a three-year project to support diverse journalists in collaborating on projects designed to make news more representative and actionable. We’re calling it the New/s initiative: pronounced “new news.”

The point is not to reform today’s legacy outlets. It’s to nurture the ideas and talent of those who are already constructing tomorrow’s journalism — who are already, without realizing it, serving as “future architects” in the news field. A term coined by GoFA’s founder Sharon Chang, the discipline of future architecture distinguishes itself from more common forecasting practices in its focus on making the world more beautiful and just, and an orientation towards addressing systems-level challenges.

I’m excited to head up this effort in collaboration with our team. Our goals are to provide a space for those aiming to center the lived experiences of their communities, to dream about the futures they are seeking to achieve for society in the long haul, to draw inspiration from interdisciplinary approaches, and to match their social goals with funders and business models that can sustain their efforts.

In 2021, we’ll do this by working with the GoFA team and its community of practice to refine the learning programs that the Guild debuted in 2020 to support their flagship incubator for “Shared Futures.”

What, you may be asking yourself, are those?

GoFA defines a “Shared Future” as “a potential reality born from the bold vision and dedicated stewardship of future architects seeking long-view and transformational impact to advance justice, inclusion, and shared prosperity.”

Akin to startups, but with a collaborative structure and a social mission, Shared Futures prioritize the collective wellbeing and shared prosperity within their stakeholder communities. Combining workshops with advisors, and a “Share Day,” the 2020 incubator helped five teams of collaborators to align their values, prototype concepts, and attract new partners and supporters. Once we’ve adapted this incubator model to better serve Shared Futures in journalism, our plan is to open up the doors in 2022 for visionary journalism teams to take part. Along the way, we will engage others who care about the health and depth of our public conversation— such as documentary makers, funders, artists, scientists, technologists, and policymakers — to explore what news means and does in our society.

Where are we coming from?

The New/s initiative draws from a deep reservoir of both theory and practice.

Primarily, it builds upon research and convenings I’ve helped to lead over the last few years in collaboration with Farai Chideya, the Ford Foundation’s journalism program officer. From 2018 to 2020, we worked with my associates at Dot Connector Studio to take a deep look at the prospects for funding and supporting news projects led by and offering coverage for women, BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ and disabled communities, and others poorly served by legacy media.

Our report, Reconstructing American Newsexplores how such outlets and innovators are systematically underfunded, and yet how they persevere in inventing new processes and upending existing power relationships in order to increase equity in journalism. Dot Connector Studio’s co-founder Katie Donnelly and I sought insights from from independent producers, as well as leaders of The 19th, City Bureau, Resolve Philadelphia, Press On, ProPublica, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Rooted in Rights, Lantigua Williams & Co., and The View from Somewhere on how their work is building resilience, saving lives, and building trust with communities.

“We need to do more than remediate old problems: we must create an equitable future. This will require completely new frameworks,” we observed. “For journalists, it may also mean letting go of old ways of doing things and learning from other fields: art, organizing, urban planning, and beyond.”

A companion report, Investing in Equitable News and Media Projects — co-authored by GoFA member Dr. Wilneida Negrón with Andrea Armeni of Transform Finance — details the dismal track record of venture capital in supporting equitable media, and lays the groundwork for more enlightened approaches to investing in journalism. “Especially for founders of color and from less privileged backgrounds, early-stage investment circles are perceived as largely exclusionary and elite spaces,” they write. Our hope is that the New/s initiative will position the Shared Futures we support to have more fruitful conversations with both investors and foundations.

The New/s initiative also is inspired by a long-range research and publishing project that Dot Connector Studio’s Carrie McLaren and I have collaborated on with GoFA’s executive director, Kamal Sinclair: Making A New Reality. Funded by the Ford Foundation’s JustFilms with additional support from the Sundance Institute, this project has investigated myriad approaches to increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion in emerging media: AR, VR, gaming, AI, and many other still-nascent forms of communication. Released in late 2020, our Making a New Reality Toolkit provides carefully curated resources to support individual, organizational, and structural change to ensure that emerging media forms and platforms represent a full range of perspectives.

But the New/s initiative is not just a product of research. It stands on the shoulders of our previous hands-on collaborations with journalism and media innovation efforts. Over the past decade, the Dot Connector Studio team co-launched and now publishes Immerse with MIT’s Open documentary lab to explore the evolution of nonfiction media, and worked on groundbreaking journalism efforts such as AIR’s Localore production. Sinclair previously directed Sundance Institute’s New Frontier Story Lab and has served as a consultant to universities such as NYU and Johns Hopkins on programs focused on emerging media and social impact.

Taken together, these bodies of work robustly demonstrate the need for a New/s initiative in the all-too homogenous tech and news industries—one which can not only incubate new journalism products or respond to the imperatives of new tech platforms, but can cultivate and develop business models to support diverse leaders, fresh processes, and equitable power dynamics. One that can put the “new” in “news.”

Bringing new funders to the table

Such goals dovetail with GoFA’s larger vision: to establish its century-long role as a critical animator of enlightened cultural, social, economic, and political systems.

In the process, GoFA is determined to cultivate a funder community that is primed to invest in Shared Futures. By bringing this organizational concept to the field, we hope to elevate the ways in which journalism innovators are working jointly and with support from larger networks of practice to invent fresh approaches to informing, engaging, and mobilizing audiences.

Along the way, we aspire to give those who are often denied access to resources the time and context to think creatively about what it will take to make journalism more representative and vital. People of color, women, queer journalists and, others whose voices and truths have been marginalized too often are forced to operate on a shoestring against an undertow of bias and harassment. While such conditions can inspire creativity in a crunch, they don’t allow much leeway for experimentation or reflection.

In that experimental spirit, consider this an initital concept note. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing out related ideas and provocations on GoFA’s site. Want to talk, or to learn more? Drop me a line.