(This is Part 1 of a three-part series on crowdsourcing. Read Part 2 for specific examples of ways the crowd can be responsibly deployed, and Part 3 for a defense of the underlying principles of it.)
Last week, my newspaper said goodbye to nine journalists, a combined 227 years of experience between them.
In the coming weeks, we’ll say goodbye to another load. By January 1, the reporters in the cubicles to the front, left and right of me will be gone.
As the entire newsroom gathered around the city desk to pay tribute to the departed, you couldn’t help but be struck by how much more real, how much more human it all seems when it hits your own newsroom. We’re fortunate that these nine were all bought out, not laid off, so for them it seemed an awkward mix of emotions that falls somewhere between sadness, exhaustion and relief.
Until now, those of us Left Behind just had to shoulder through the nagging pain of attrition, responsibilities piled upon responsibilities. Now, with an estimated 25 percent of the newsroom leaving, it’s become unavoidably clear that stacking can no longer be part of our newsroom model. Not when we’re losing this many people; no one can stack that high.
The only possibility is to drastically cut open and operate on every practice we know. Eliminate inefficiencies. Find new opportunities of strength. Sacrifice the sacred cows that don’t deserve to be sacred anymore. Refocus our priorities.
I’m annoyingly stubborn in believing that despite the devastating cuts, The Patriot-News can redefine itself and serve the community better than it ever has.
It’s a simple formula: As the number of reporters decreases, the importance of efficient sourcing increases.
And it just so happens there’s a wildly efficient pool of sources just waiting for us to tap into it: It’s time for a wider embrace of crowdsourcing in its many forms. All it would require is a sledgehammer to the institutional arrogance rooted deeply in the newspaper industry.
There’s an active base of readers, even in central Pennsylvania, who would be perfectly willing to chip in when it comes to reporting traffic or gas prices. Given easy access to reporters, they like to share news tips.
It requires a newsroom-wide commitment that sees the benefit of turning over tasks to the community when it will open up time for reporters to spend on significant stories.
It requires a Web operation that doesn’t just shovel our content to the masses, but actively curates the information out there and promotes useful Web activity in the area.
For the resistant reporter, it requires an acknowledgment that reading a forum posting from DerryDynamo isn’t any different than talking to her after the board meeting or answering a phone call, a willingness to sift through the crap for the wealth of valuable information out there, and the ability to develop an online presence in all forms necessary.
And let’s get this straight: The buyouts get us nowhere closer to these goals. There’s a misconception out there that buyouts tend to filter out those who “don’t get the Web,” but that simplistic logic just didn’t bear out here. Among our losses are two journalists on Twitter, our best computer-assisted reporter, and a reporter who’s been blogging since long before it was fashionable. All of the journalists leaving are big losses for the community.
I hold tight to this annoying optimism because we have no choice but to consider this a turning point of some sort, so we might as well make it as positive as possible. Here’s hoping a culture change is very much a part of it.