Sunday, February 17, 2008

Owens - 10 things journalists can do

Howard Owens has one of his usual thought-provoking posts on Ten things journalists can do to reinvent journalism.

As is always the case, there's a lot of wisdom and stuff sure to rankle some.

For the wisdom:
  • Listen more closely to your readers. Cherish every scrap of unsolicited praise
  • Don’t cover process. Cover real stories. Real stories have real people in them, with real things to say about how real things effect their real lives.
  • Be accurate. Always. Being accurate is more than just getting your facts right. It encompasses your entire approach to a story.
  • [B]e invested in your community and care about its people.
And a few that might rankle (though I think they are all good advice):
  • Stop writing for the front page. [Well, maybe. I agree with Owens that on the Web there is no front page. And in a perfect world, we wouldn't care. But this glances over the fact that journalists have egos -- they have to to survive in this business -- and that aspect of the creative mind can be a useful personal and institutional motivator. Too often we talk about journalists as if they are cubicle rats. They aren't, the best have all the creative talent and drive of any artist, and we fail to take this into account at our risk.)
  • Stop treating journalism like a competition. It’s fun to beat the other news outlets, but that shouldn’t be the only reason to pursue a story. [Again, in the abstract, I couldn't agree more. And Owens is dead on when he says treating everything like a scoop to be rushed online or to print leads to errors. But, again, I think he glosses over the reality of a creative culture where competition is somewhat inherent. The key is in managing it. If you think about it, that's always been the conundrum of journalism -- we take creative people (at least we say we want those types of people) and then try to force them into this rather restrictive box called journalism. How odd is that?]
  • Stop submitting your stories to reporting and writing competitions. This only encourages you to write for other journalists, not for your readers. [I think it's an invalid assumption that most journalists write "to the award" and thus to other journalists. I've just reviewed a book manuscript giving the backstory on a number of Pulitzer winners, and those reporters clearly were not doing what they were doing for other journalists. Let's discard this bit of shopworn doggerel and have a more thorough discussion about journalism competitions. Maybe part of the solution is that we need to rejigger the competitions themselves. Why have only journalists judging? If this is the era of citizen involvement, then get real outsiders involved in the judging as well.]
I also have one "wisdom" entry that I think needs a caveat:
  • Put more people in your stories and fewer titles. I’m going to make up this rule of thumb, but … for every title in your story, you should reference two people without titles. [I couldn't agree more -- but. Be careful this does not turn into a silly edict, producing the absurd results that some of Gannett's programs have. (As described in Bernard Goldberg's "Bias.")]

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