Thursday, June 01, 2006

News as conversation

Yea, we could have thrown some cheesy headline like "A change in the 'Pecking' order" on this, but we resisted because, well, as Tim Porter at First Draft points out, this is serious stuff.

Porter takes note of Memphis Commercial Appeal Editor Chris Peck's column in which Peck, commenting on the grumbles that putting an "American Idol" story on the front page generated, writes:

As "American Idol" so vividly shows, some basic assumptions about the news, what it is, why it matters, seem to have been sharply revised in recent years.

It's not just the drop in newspaper circulation, the drop in viewership of TV news or the chorus of critics who think the news business is biased and unfair. No, the even larger shift seems to be that the very brain and soul of the news business are somehow changing.

And they are.

The news brain no longer resides in newsrooms alone. Not when we have the Internet, and millions of blogs, and a rising generation of news consumers who say: It's not your news, but ours.

Peck goes on to adopt what Porter, I and others inside and outside the industry have said:
  • "News will be more a conversation about making sense of the world, less of a sermon from on high.
  • News will rely on the wisdom of the many, not the insight of the few, with journalists being knowledge leaders.
  • News will be multilayered, from very personal accounts to highly evolved overviews by real pros.
  • News will be available anytime, from your phone, computer or new technologically advanced device.
  • News will be framed according to your social networks, your age and your tribe."
So if it's been said, what makes this important? As Porter notes:
Various people in and out of newsrooms have been using the news-is-a-conversation" mantra for a couple of years, but when it comes off the keyboard of a mainstream editor, albeit one known for his thoughtfulness about the profession and passion for good journalism, then I say a tipping point has been reached.
As usual, Tim goes on to make some great observations of his own:

Few newspapers have definable goals for change. Many editors talk about their desire to attract younger readers, to produce brighter writing or to "converge" their newsrooms. Sadly, though, most don't have a true strategy for how to accomplish these things.

Their goals are fuzzy (what does "better writing" mean?) and therefore easily misunderstood (and therefore undermined) by middle-management and staff; their goals are not backed up by resources (moving the bodies to match the goals); their goals don't have measurable outcomes (how much "better writing" do you want? And from whom?).

The conversation must move from the recognition that change is necessary to how do newspapers acquire the tools to accomplish it.
Take some time and read both things. It will be worth your while.

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