Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Knight Foundation CEO in search of new ways to build community

JACKSONVILLE, Ala-- It started as a crystal clear day. You could see clear to the top of the mountain. In fact, going into today's luncheon the former Anniston Star Editor Troy Turner pointed out to me the trail that goes to the mountain that sits in view of the Houston Cole Library on the beautiful campus of Jacksonville State University.

What a way to begin a posting about today's Ayers Lecture Series, which featured the man of the week-- the new CEO of Knight Foundation, Alberto Ibarguen.

I'm not even going to try to format this as a news story (a habit of mine when I'm blogging). I'm just going to note some highlights from the lecture that stuck out at me as I was taking it all in.

Highlight #1- Not Newspapers, New Media

Highlight #2- Community

Highlight #3- New Ways of Doing Things

Now for the details

Highlight #1 Not Newspapers, New Media

Perhaps most surprising to us is that the Knight Foundation is clearly not in the business of saving newspapers. That's the underlying point of many advocates for community journalism. If we can cover our communities, people will buy our papers.

Ibarguen, a former Miami Herald editor, has a different take

"The reach of newspapers is shrinking. to me that creates an extraordinary opportunity for us to identify the community journalism of the 21st century," said Ibarguen. "We're wedded to excellence in journalism, though not newspapers. The world is agnostic to platform and we need to reflect that."

Highlight #2- Community

It's probably no accident that Ibarguen spent a good deal of his address to a nearly capacity crowd on the 11th floor of JSU's Cole Library, talking about his experiences responding to Hurricane Katrina,

He talked about how he was able through the Knight Foundation to invest $1 million into helping Mississippi Gulf Coast develp a plan for rebuilding their communities.

Much of his examination of this region was through his experience watching the Sun-Herald in Biloxi continue to publish (via a presenting site in Columbus, Ga.) in spite of Katrina's destruction.

Highpoint #3- New Ways of Doing Things

Perhaps my favorite part of this speech was hearing Ibarguen, a seasoned print journalist, continue to ask for ideas for reaching audiences through new media.

This seemed to be a message not only for JSU and UA students in the room, but also the journalism professors who find themselves looking to the Knight Foundation to fund their NEEDS.

Ibarguen made it clear his foundation, which awards nearly $100 million in grants each year, is thinking more like a venture capitalist "seeding and inspiring" individuals who have new ways of building community.

"We're interested in new ways of teaching and new ways of disseminating information."

Acting as the master of ceremonies during today's luncheon and the lecture that followed was Jacksonville State University President Bill Meehan. At least two former JSU presidents were also in attendance as were a number of the Knight Chairs, who held a meeting on the JSU campus this morning.

This was the 17th year for the Harry M. and Edel Y. Ayers Lecture, an annual address by a journalist for journalism in honor of the former publisher of the Anniston Star and wife.

The clouds rolled in during the luncheon-- but I wouldn't say they had any impact on the clarity of vision that the top man at the Knight Foundation shared.


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