True story: A well-known, must-read climate journalist quit their job last year to join an NGO and start a newsletter — and the newsletter is boring.
“Their stuff used to be so good,” a colleague said to me. “Now it’s dull. Terrible. What am I missing?”
It’s the ecosystem.
Behind most journalists these days are editors, the competition, and probably a metrics-first culture. The ecosystem of journalism drives journalists to pursue the next scoop, and the next and the next. To be maximally interesting.
NGOs have an ecosystem, too — one very different from journalism. Competitive content has an edge, and edges are sharp. Eventually those edges cut someone that someone inside the NGO doesn’t want cut. Better to dull the edge in the first place. To be maximally collegial.
Here’s the lesson: For non-profits and research-driven organizations (and researchers) who want to do great content — great content needs more than just great ideas and hooks. It needs an ecosystem that nurtures and demands it.
Within organizations, great content needs explicit metrics, incentives, minimum resource investments that the organization endorses and defends, a culture in which research leaders collaborate and compete to produce it, and leadership that lionizes and promotes it.
For academic researchers working “alone,” all of the above, plus alternative career paths that prioritizes public engagement.
Without the public expert’s ecosystem, there is no public expert.
But if you’re waiting for someone else to create your ecosystem, you’ll be waiting forever.