December 21, 2004

Learn from the Bloggers, My Children

Since the earliest days of the new media revolution, Steve Outing has translated its meaning for old media, first for Editor and Publisher magazine and later for the Poynter Institute, where he works as a senior editor, writer and cat herder for the E-Media Tidbits column.

Steve's latest piece for Poynter tells mainstream journalists what they could learn from bloggers. He offers a comprehensive curriculum - transparency, personality and connection to the public among the topics - and draws on alpha bloggers Glenn Reynolds and Jeff Jarvis, who say smart things like this:

"The news isn't done when we print it," (Jarvis) says. "That's when the public can add questions, corrections, perspective. That will improve news. And it also will change our relationship with the public."

Steve promises a second part of the column. Until then, and with thanks to Steve for the inspiration, here's my list of 10 things traditional journalists, particularly those who work for newspapers, could learn from bloggers:

1. Get personal. Steve mentions this under the heading "personality journalism." I prefer the term "personal journalism." For a good example in a mainstream newspaper, read Macarena Hernandez's powerfully, moving portrait of her trans-border family, One Family, Two Homelands, in the San Antonio Express-News. If you don't tear up, then you never had a grandmother.

2. Explain why you do things. Throw out the black box of news decision-making and let the public in on how and why we do things. After the San Francisco Chronicle, for example, published excerpts from the grand jury testimony of baseball stars Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi, the paper's editor, Phil Bronstein, addressed concerns about the appropriateness of making public secret proceedings. He defended the paper's right to print the testimony but also acknowledged that the Chronicle does not "have a corner on wisdom." Bronstein encouraged continued debate on the story, saying "it's that debate, held openly, that gives our lives vibrancy in a free society."

3. Focus. Good blogs have distinct personalities and themes. The time is past for newspapers to be all things to all people. That formula is broken. Communities are too diverse and resources too limited to cover everything. The result is deepening mediocrity and increasing reliance on institutional reporting - go to a meeting and write a story. This is stenography, not journalism. Imagine taking all the resources your newspaper has and rebuilding the paper from scratch. Would it be the same? I doubt it. What kind of newspaper would you make if your journalism was intentional and not accidental?

4. Print the truth, not just the facts. The L.A. Times' excellent series on a dysfunctional local hospital shows how powerful a point-of-view can be when it is based on sound reporting.

5. Don't just report, teach. Make stories learning opportunities for readers. Become a resource and not just a product. Summarize the running story, point to stories in other publications, list your archived stories so occasional readers can go deeper, link out on the web.

6. Get local, very local. Find ways, either in print or online, to get the chicken dinner and real people news published. Yes, institutions matter, but people matter more.

7. Give readers access to source material. When the San Francisco Chronicle editorial board interviewed mayoral candidates, it broadcast a video of the entire two-hour interview. Viewers not only gained more time with the candidate in order to form their own opinions, they were given insight into the journalistic process and techniques. When a reporter does an interview, the bulk of the conversation usually stays in the notebook. Why not run the full interview online? The same applies to transcripts of court or civil proceedings, court documents such as arrest sheets and lawsuits, and supporting documents from other stories, such as campaign contributions, for example. Remember, show don't tell.

8. Add multiple RSS feeds to your web site. Many papers already do this - Tom Biro has a list here - but most don't. Let readers get your stories their way, not yours.

9. Add email addresses to your stories. (Is it really necessary to say this in 2004?) Let your readers talk to you. So many editors say they don't know what readers want. To them I say: How will you ever know unless you ask every day? No one should have to point this out this late in the game.

10. Finally, adapt. Blogs aren't static. Most newspapers are. Learn to change in response to the flow of news or market conditions. Use news media tools, which are more flexible than print, to implement rapid change. The Spokesman Review in Spokane, Wash., for example, adds new blogs all the time.

 Steve Outing What Mainstream Journalists Can Learn From Bloggers

Posted by Tim Porter at December 21, 2004 08:42 AM

In Steve's context I would like to share this statement:

Bloggers have no checks and balances. [It's] a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas.
—JONATHAN KLEIN, former senior executive of 60 Minutes, on Fox News

Posted by: Jozef on December 22, 2004 02:48 AM
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