A visit to Nieman Lab – Cambridge, Mass.

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Not far from Harvard Square, down a cobblestone path, is an historic New England mansion housing the Nieman Journalism Lab.

This is where great journalists come – Nieman Fellows – to think, reflect, listen and share ideas about the state of the industry. And given the current climate of this business, there’s plenty of reflection and thought needed when it comes to moving forward.

Josh Benton is director of the Nieman Lab.

“It’s a newsroom and think tank,” explained Benton. “A mix of technology, journalism and academia.”

After offering me a cup of green tea we sit down to chat in a parlor with big comfy chairs, surrounded by floor to ceiling bookshelves. After hashing out the problems facing journalism and how it’s been disrupted by great innovations, we move on to the next next thing.

Inside Harvard Nieman

Click photo to see video inside Harvard Nieman

“Mobile is now first,” said Benton.

At Nieman, a lot of time is spent looking at how new applications and platforms are coming on-line, what’s working, what’s making money, what’s changing the story. Here are just a few projects/organizations Benton highlights:

NowThis news:  is a start-up that produces news videos for a young audience. It was founded by former Huffington Post guys: Kenneth Lerer and Eric Hippeau. This company produces more than 50 daily video updates for Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Vine and Youtube. The video items are produced in small, digestible 6, 15 or 30 second chunks, to be viewed on mobile and tablet devices. These micro stories are presented by fast talkers with faster music running in the background. This is definitely designed to deliver quick news to a specific audience.

PBS Digital Studio on Youtube: This is a network of web-original content from PBS and member stations from across the United States. “Not your average PBS” as its twitter profile notes. Benton says these videos are designed specifically for the digital medium and “they work”. (Here’s a Forbe’s review.) These 3-8 minute videos include a popular remix of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood that went viral with more than 9 million views so far. PBS Digital content is “educational and intellectual” and created for a youtube audience. Check out the Julia Child remix. The video is beautifully edited with music, sound. And the producers obviously did their research to understand and appreciate the character.

 iPolitics: Yes, he had a Canadian example. In fact, this guy Benton is a Canadaphile. (This comes up a couple of times during my visit and at one point a Nieman staffer walks by and laughs in our direction – Benton is apparently known for his odd love affair with his northern neighbour.) So he likes iPolitics and says it’s created some “unique opportunities”. I, too, am a fan, but would like to see even more creative digital-first journalism  coming out of this hopeful start-up.

While Benton has great respect for Canucks, he also scolds us for not having nearly the same drive for innovation on the media side – suggesting we’re at least five years behind the U.S. both when it comes to enterprising academic discussion and encouraging a media start-up culture.

We have our work cut out for us.

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