Dispatch from the Digital Frontier: Can Games Save Journalism?

Written By

Anne Derryberry

July 27, 2010

As an American, I have a deep appreciation for journalism and those who practice it. Journalism is fundamental to a successful democracy, and I expect there are many Americans who are grateful, as I am, for the hard work of the reporters who dog the events of our time so that they can shine the light on the inner workings of government and other institutions that affect how our society operates.

Sadly, the businesses that have traditionally sustained the practice of journalism are themselves unable to sustain the business models that keep them in business. How many people do you know who get the news via Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo, John Stewart and Stephen Colbert? How many people do you know who still get a newspaper delivered to their homes? How many people do you know who watch the evening news on TV? These questions and their ilk are keeping many very smart people awake at night as they fret about what journalism in the twenty-first century will be.

Journalism and education have much in common, and not just because they are both in dire straits in this country. While it is the responsibility of journalism to inform us about the world around us, it is education’s purview to help us learn about, navigate and succeed in that same world. Each discipline is fundamental to a well-informed and productive citizenry. Further, each requires active and willing consumers to achieve its goal.

There has been a lot of buzz in recent years about online games for learning. Learning professionals and consumers alike have begun to see the utility of incorporating games and game mechanics (techniques) into learning programs. Experimental schools that incorporate games into their curriculum are popping up around the country. University programs are coming online that focus on game design and development for both entertainment and education. The value of play as a component of the learning process is being recognized in many corners of government and industry.

Our journalism colleagues are starting to take notice of games for learning, and are beginning to wonder whether game mechanics might have a place in the news business. Funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Ian Bogost and his team at Georgia Tech are looking at “ways videogames can be used in the field of journalism, providing examples, theoretical approaches, speculative ideas, and practical advice about the past, present, and future of games and journalism.” (http://jag.lcc.gatech.edu/) BBC has released several games that help young people understand complex topics in the news. Newsgaming.com, a Uruguayan game company, uses videogames to “analyze, debate, comment and editorialize major international news.” (http://www.newsgaming.com/index.htm). Impact Games, a game development house in Pittsburgh (and the people who brought us “PeaceMaker”), has launched “Play the News,” a web-based platform that brings interactive gaming elements to the online news industry with the intent of changing the paradigm of news consumption from passive reading to active engagement. (http://impactgames.com/)

I’m pleased to tell you that I will be joining the pursuit of the sweet spot at the intersection of games, education and journalism. Next month, I begin a fellowship at the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism. My work will focus on 1) using game mechanics within journalism education, and 2) designing games to support journalism’s community of practice, particularly the bourgeoning community of citizen journalists around the world. I will be examining such wide-ranging topics as:

  • The role of social networking in the practice of journalism

  • Content management – can journalism benefit from the concept of “reusable/repurposable content”?

  • Is journalism becoming a new form of personal/interpersonal expression?

  • What kind of social economics are embedded in journalism? Explicit and tacit?

  • How is workflow changing in this era of new new media? [Bill: yes, I mean new new]

  • Is the role of news consumer changing? How?

I invite you to join me on this journey. I will be reporting here about my experiences, observations and learnings. As always, I look forward to your insights and recommendations.

More Executive

You May Also Like