Tag Archives: bloggers

Why journalists need to stop playing catch-up, start focusing on the next news model

News organizations won’t stay afloat and continue to provide an essential service to democracy because the public suddenly values what they’ve been selling.

They’ll stay afloat because forward-thinking leaders will make sure the news organizations are damn good at the next news model, and the next one after that. Someone is going to figure out every new model for news distribution, whether it’s tomorrow’s model or 2050’s model.

Who will figure it out? I’d much prefer it be the the journalists who have the ethical standards and story-telling skills that have long thrived. I’d much prefer it be the organizations that can maintain journalism as a decently-paid profession, attracting intelligent people to the career.

But that’s not a given, and that’s not such a bad thing. It’s not a bad thing for the public that Twitter is better for breaking news than a newspaper; it’s just a bad thing for journalists that they didn’t create Twitter first.

So journalists: Let’s stop complaining about the fact that we’re getting our asses whooped at today’s news model.

Let’s just get on top of the next one.

I’ve come to see that catch-up is a silly game to play. I’m tired of reading blogs that don’t engage the readers in conversation, of breaking news that isn’t really breaking, of static storytelling when two-way storytelling is desperately needed. These are all concepts that the Internet public has mastered without the help of news organizations.

This round is over. Journalists lost.

But lucky for journalists, there are plenty more rounds to come. Time to invest our money and expertise into focusing on the next ones.

You know, while we still have some money and expertise left.

This is far from an anti-blogger screed, or any indication of journalistic arrogance. The next news model will utilize what the bloggers have done well (immediacy, diversity, voice) and lend to it what the institution of journalism has historically done well (accuracy, authority, ethics). Then we’ll add some new virtues into the fold (aggregation, curation, community-building).

What that next news model will be is a question for people far smarter than I, but I personally believe the prize will go to whoever can master those new virtues. And there’s no reason why news organizations, with their deep pockets, highly skilled journalists and histories in their communities, can’t lead the way.

Here’s the good news: This doesn’t require massive firings that suck the life out of the print product, and it doesn’t even require you to sell your entire newsroom on these new models. Those who have been carelessly labeled as “curmudgeons” can keep their opinions of the Web as long as they keep doing what they do best: Supporting the print product that still pays everyone else’s salary.

This works as long as you have others at the newspaper who are focused on innovation. Those people ought to be identified (or hired), given the space and time they need, then set loose to experiment.

The focus on today’s news model — and quite often yesterday’s — can at best slow the decline of news organizations. It’s not even doing that particularly well. When every newspaper of every size places innovation at a higher priority, even if it slightly dents the print product, we’ll have a collection of minds that’d have to be considered the favorite to find the next model.

Thursday at the Online News Association conference: “I think I’m following you”

(For more on ONA08 as it’s happening, check for Tweets here. And I’ll be updating Twitter myself throughout the day. This is a quick, non-exhaustive recap as I don’t have much time before I need to catch my metro.)

Among the bloggers/Twitter users I’ve long talked to or read online and finally got to meet in person Thursday: Erica Smith, Elaine Helm, Patrick Thornton, Greg Linch, Kevin Koehler, Jay Rosen, Jim Ogle, Patrick O’Brien, Patrick Beeson, Josh Korr, and Chrys Wu. I’ve spotted a few more, and hope to track down others in the next few days. Always great to place a face, handshake, and some semblance of their off-line personality to a Twitter account.

The main highlight of Thursday — aside from meeting those folks — was the job fair. (Don’t worry, current employers, it was mostly out of curiosity and to see the state of the industry. I told everyone I like my current job.)

It really was an interesting glimpse.

The big newspaper Web sites — washingtonpost.com and nytimes.com — weren’t really seeking reporters with Web skills. They sought either a reporter OR a web person. As a reporter who has spent a long time developing my Web skills, that was disappointing to hear.

It was an enlightening conversation with Nancy Sharkey, the the senior editor of recruiting at the New York Times who also recruits print journalists. She said the Times hires most of its reporters as twenty-somethings, enabling them to grow up in the New York City pressure and the Times pressure, instead of subjecting them to it late in their career. She also offered this three-part checklist for any reporter who dreams of making it to the Times, saying that your clips should display:

  1. Strong analytical skills.
  2. Reliable breaking news skills.
  3. A unique, personal voice.

Other events of the day:

— One of the more interesting conversations came over lunch with Jim Ogle, who I’ve long followed on Twitter. As the general manager of , he’s found that using social media has really launched the participation on his site past the bigger stations in his chain. It was fascinating to hear what he’s done, and if I have time I might try to get him on camera to talk about it.

— Greg Linch delivered the line of the day when he spotted someone sit near us in a session. “I think I follow you” was his greeting. Greg effectively Twittered most of that newspaper-based session if you’re interested.

— I love the awkwardness of introducing yourself to someone who you follow, but the other person doesn’t follow you back. There’s just a quick head nod and an “Ah…” that’s priceless.

–At night, I walked over to a reception at the Newseum with Linch, Koehler and Thornton. It was a bit swankier than this small-to-mid-sized-town boy was used to. I’ve never walked in to an event through a tunnel of at least a dozen waiters staring at me and offering trays of wine.

But despite the fact that the money spent on the reception likely could have paid my salary for a year, it was great having a social opportunity with all the aforementioned bloggers and meeting a few more.

Where are all the college bloggers?

I was delighted to find Jessica DaSilva’s blog (via Pat Thornton). Jessica, a journalism student at the University of Florida, had a recent entry about her internship at the Tampa Tribune that took me back to the good old days of unadulterated enthusiasm.

Reading through Jessica’s blog shows you don’t have to be an expert with years of experience to have something valuable to offer.

So why aren’t more students blogging? I suspect it’s because, all over the country, students are still being taught to have a fear of blogging, bloggers and blogs.

I talked to a group of students at Lebanon Valley College this spring about blogging, and the professor challenged each of the students to start their own blog.

Some of the results: Popcorn Nation, A Mess of Youthful Innocence, PA Press Watch, Over the Counter, Not Just Another Indie Hipster, Today’s Menu.

Some of them are really impressive offerings. PA Press Watch was a great read in the Pennsylvania primaries, as he dissected how different newspapers covered everything. Popcorn Nation and Not Just Another Indie Hipster have been embedding videos and linking with the best of them. Over the Counter and Today’s Menu have given interesting looks at working in a pharmacy and restaurant, respectively.

These are difficult subjects to maintain blogs on, but they need not be professional. What’s really cool about the project is that the students are beginning to understand the culture of blogging. You see them leaving comments on each other’s entries. You see them linking to each other, or leaving comments in other blogs.

These students, once they find themselves at a news organization, will be much better suited to starting a blog on their beat. Having maintained a blog while in college was one of my big selling points in being hired for my current reporting job.

So let me ask: Do you know of any other students blogging about journalism, like Jessica DaSilva? If you are one, please make sure to let me know you exist.

UPDATE (12:22 p.m.): Jessica makes two great points in the comment thread:

And I agree that more students should be blogging. I’ve noticed that in keeping up my blog, it forces me to keep abreast on my news to ensure I know what I’m talking about.

It’s also teaching me how to combine my own personal flair with what I know. Later, when I have a beat to blog about, I feel like it’ll help me connect with readers so they know I’m not a robot.

Online journalists: Lose the smugness, win a few converts

This will be an unusually confrontational post for me.

That said, Yoni Greenbaum was right on yesterday in pointing out a significant problem in some of the journalists fighting the good fight online:

But, and this might just be because of whom I read, the loudest are the bloggers who complain the most about the industry. These are typically young journalists with a short amount of time at any one job. Their blogs are places for them to publicly whine and throw tantrums in an effort to receive attention and obtain validation for their viewpoints. All too often their posts leave me shaking my head and wanting to grab the authors, give them a smack or two and tell them to wake up and, especially, grow up. But that’s not what this blog is about.

It was a perfect wake-up call to remind myself of my original vow to never become one of those people. I won’t name names, but I’ve often felt exactly the same way reading some journalism bloggers out there.

And I’d add that it’s not just about how the online torch carriers are blogging. I can’t help but think how much I’d hate being a colleague of some of those people, even though I agree 100 percent with what they’re saying. There’s no way that the message, if it’s presented in the “What the hell is wrong with everybody except me?” tone I often read, could be received by anyone who doesn’t already believe it.

Taking a conciliatory approach is a big focus of mine in my own newsroom as I try to share my Web skills with whoever wants to learn. I’ve led newsroom sessions on using Facebook, might soon lead sessions on using RSS and blogging style, reporters often ask for my help searching for profiles on MySpace, and I’ll often have philosophical discussions about things like liveblogging big events and why it’s worthwhile to be worrying about this Internet thing in the first place.

As a snot-nosed 23-year-old, the youngest person in the newsroom, there’s no way any of that would be received well if I was yelling at the people with whom I was trying to share my perspective. If I put them on the defensive every time they talk to me, they’re not going to talk to me very often.

Shouldn’t people with those skills be focused on finding the best way to share them, instead of caustically demanding that others catch up?