April 22, 2005

Change, it be a comin’…

Stop what you’re doing, and go read The Mood of the Newsroom on Tim Porter’s First Draft.

I’m trying not to produce more nostalgic journalists in my own teaching. Part of what that means is teaching them the history of journalism with an emphasis on change. I teach to the fact that we are all part of one of the most important and sweeping moments of change that journalism has experienced since 1880. I want them to embrace change and prepare themselves to be a part of an important future in journalism.

Porter offers a list of “what-ifs” (my comments included):

What if…we exploded our newsrooms rebuilt them from scratch? (If someone gave you XXX number of journalists and $XX millions–add you own newsroom numbers–and said, here, make any type of news organization you want, would you build the same newspaper you have today?)

Perhaps we wouldn’t even build a newsroom. Perhaps what we would do is build an information infrastructure that frees individual reporters from the old industrial model with its ponderous and soul-crushing hierarchy of power and authority. We might actually be able to get them to do something nostalgic again: wear out shoe leather on the streets of their communities in search of important local stories that intra-connect and inter-connect the community to the larger world.

What if…we could cover anything we wanted? Would we go to the same meetings, call the cops as much, fill the paper with so many stories about institutions?

What if we learned to tell a different story?

What if…we stopped writing about things even journalists don’t read? Let’s be honest: Many journalists don’t read their own newspapers because they find them boring. Why continue feeding that stuff to the public?

Eliminating the boring would mean, among other things, re-thinking what news is, where it comes from, and who gets to say. Technology encourages exactly this re-thinking as citizens begin to answer these questions for themselves.

What if…every journalist believed in the Power of One? As Washington Post reporter Robert O’Harrow says: “You have one life, one career, you might as well shoot for the stars.” Be dogged, follow truth, think big.

What if mankind lived this way?

What if…we stopped worrying about the Web and instead embraced it by writing for it first and the paper second, but digitizing our interviews, by displaying our source material, by inviting readers to contribute, comment and confront?

Yes. The medium is the message. Print is a second-day medium. The web is print-plus. The print edition is not, then, adjunct. Instead, print is a medium of reflection and thought that adds civic substance to the participation that happens online and in the carbon-based world.

Related to all of this is Porter’s recent examination of news values.

Another good read today: A look at moonbats and wingnuts by Sisyphus.

3 Responses

  1. rgrafton 

    I don’t agree with you that newspapers are the “medium of reflection and thought”. Unfortunately, newspapers are caught between the swiftness of the net and the comprehensivness of magazines, periodicals, newsletters, journals, quarterlies, etc. In other words, newspapers are either too slow or too fast. IMO, the only thing newspapers can do well is local news. Even the NYTimes, when you look at it, isn’t really a good national paper, it’s just a really good local paper for those living in Central Park West, and all Central Park West wannabes. How do I know this? Because not long ago, I read a story in NYTimes lamenting the dearth of diversity in — horticulture! Is this really a pressing concern anywhere else? Yeah, where’s the outrage?

  2. acline 

    R- “print” is a “medium of reflection and thought”

    Big difference. People using the medium may certainly use it well or poorly. One way to use the medium is newspaper journalism, which may be practiced well or poorly. I certainly agree with most of your claims. I was careful NOT to make the claim that newspapers are a “medium of reflection and thought.” They can be and could be. For the most part today they are not.

  3. rgrafton 

    Ooops, I didn’t read the fine “print” of your post. Tee!Hee!