Meet Joshua Benton, Director of Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab

joshua-bentonJoshua Benton runs a small newsroom of four full time staff. They publish around fifteen items a week on Nieman Lab, their WordPress based website. Their newsroom is different than most newsrooms though, because they mostly publish about other newsrooms.

The Nieman Journalism Lab was started by Josh in 2007, and today is a highly regarded organization in the media world. With nearly 150,000 Twitter followers, the Nieman Lab audience includes many influential members of the media and journalism community.

You may also remember the Nieman Lab from when I covered the ambitious Riptide project, an oral history on the “collision between journalism and digital technology,” and included an interview with WordPress co-founder Matt Mullenweg.

Josh and his staff at the Nieman Lab keep a finger on the pulse of what's going on in the land of media and journalism. Specifically, the lab is “an attempt to help journalism figure out its future in an Internet age.” Josh prefers to think of the Nieman Lab as “eighty five percent newsroom, fifteen percent think-tank about the future of news.”

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The Nieman Lab does a great job analyzing the media world's transformation from print to web. Josh has been part of that media world since the early/mid 90s, his longest stint as a reporter for the Dallas Morning News.

Josh also has a long history of tinkering with the web. He's been building websites in some form or fashion since 1994, and in addition to many other duties, he's the primary developer of the Nieman Lab website itself.

During our conversation, Josh helps provide a great deal of insight on the history of journalism and how that affects how we view media today. We talked about a number of things, from whether journalists should learn to code, to the impact of WordPress and other open source tools on journalism.

He also talked about how the transformation of media to the “internet age” is going in general:

Broadly speaking, I think it's an amazing time to be a consumer of news. I think that there's a ton of good work being done. I think in the early 2000s we went through a period where we got to have some of the benefits of the new system while you still had all the strengths of the old one.

I think that we went through a stretch when newspapers were laying off people — you know, everybody was laying off people — and we didn't have as much to replace it yet. I think that now you're seeing the birth of a lot of ambitious online native news outlets that are making a significant difference.

[…]

I'm an optimist. I think that to the extent that news is a really important thing that needs to be generated in a society, I think that we're making progress and figuring out what the business models will be that can support that.

This is just a small nugget of our 50 minute conversation. Hearing Josh's insight and perspective made this one of the more exciting interviews I've ever done. I hope you enjoy it, and I really appreciate Josh spending his time with me.

If you are interested in the intersection of journalism, technology, and web publishing, then I highly encourage you follow Josh on Twitter, the Nieman Lab Twitter account, and check out NiemanLab.org.

*Image by Stu Rosner, courtesy of Harvard Magazine