Good reporting is about being a good conversationalist

We fight a lot over the meaning of words. Often.

What is a journalist?

Must you ascribe to certain standards, have been trained in a particular fashion, receive a specific level of pay to be called a journalist?

Does it matter?

I’ve always liked the word “reporter.” To me, it means a person who obtains facts either through research, interviews or observation and reports back to another group of people. The report is generally organized and may or may not contain a point of view (or opinion). But it always has meaning and is informative to its intended audience.

It seems to me absurd to suggest that any person who finds stuff out and tells other people about it isn’t a reporter.

I’ve always considered the best bloggers reporters. Good bloggers gather a bunch of different links, do a little related research and then suffuse their blog posts (reports) with knowledge and experience. That’s reporting to me.

To me, “Reporter” is a noble word, but you don’t need a paycheck or a press pass to be a good and noble reporter.

There’s always been a good deal of conversation in reporting, especially professional reporting. As any beat reporter knows, it’s never about just the one story or the one meeting. It’s about relationships and shared history between subjects, sources, reporter and the interested news organizations (the reporter’s own and the competition).

They only thing new these days is that there are lot more people involved in the conversation.

I would like to associate myself with the following remarks from Scott Karp:

Many people in the news business seem to have a vested interest in separating journalism as it has traditionally been practiced, by employees of news organizations that controlled monopoly distribution channels, from “citizen journalism� or “crowdsourcing� or anything else that represents the evolution of journalism in a networked media world.

So we have “serious, traditional� journalism over HERE, and all this experimenting with “citizens� and “crowds� and whatnot over THERE.

Well, it’s time to call foul on this.

For a couple of years I’ve been saying it’s about the conversation, not us and them.

The future of journalism depends on collaboration, not silos and fiefdoms. Journalism with a capital J needs to maintain standards but it also, desperately, needs to evolve in order to thrive as in a networked media age.


Newspaper sites can be web hip, according to Roblimo

In OJR, Robin Miller has posted the recipe to save newspapers online.

Of course, I think it’s brilliant stuff. There isn’t a suggestion there I haven’t made myself. I love the confirmation of the ideas.
A few highlights:

A website that can tell me about every upcoming meeting of the Bradenton City Council and every upcoming appearance of my favorite local bands and alert me to the next meeting of the Tamiami Trail Business Association is going to get a lot of visits from me — and from a lot of other people, too.

It is now possible to outfit a reporter with a “backpack video” newsgathering rig, including a high-definition digital camcorder, all necessary sound equipment, and a compact tripod, for less than $3000. This equipment is nearly 100% “point and shoot,” too. It doesn’t take any great technical skill to operate.

Hell, you can do it for a lot less than $3,000 and not lose a damn thing in quality. (NOTE: I just notice in comments that Miller is including a laptop in his rig, in which case $3K is more like it, especially if you’re going for the Canon HV20.)

Newspapers should be out scouting for successful local bloggers — not the ones who do two-sentence links to stories published elsewhere, but those who do original reporting — and offering them a chance to put their material on the newspapers’ sites instead of their own. For pay.

Well, there’s lots of ways to work with local bloggers better, and at this point, pay is optional. Let’s get some revenue in first.

Coupons can make great ads on a newspaper website’s pages, but a whole section devoted to coupons (possibly with an accompanying stringer-generated blog pointing to special deals noticed by readers) could become a reader draw on its own, not to mention a decent income-generator.

I haven’t blogged about coupons before, but I’ve talked about it a lot. I think coupons are the under exploited print ad for the web. I’m not aware of a newspaper site that is doing coupons right, though for a short while many years ago, the Ventura County Star was close.

And Miller is right here, too:

The real question is not whether we will see the development of dominant local online news operations run by Web-hip publishers and editors, but whether those Web-hip publishers and editors will work for existing local newspapers or for new, Web-only publications that eventually replace newspapers as the dominant source of local news.

Hyperlocal is about people, not politics

Cory Bergman pulls this quote from an interview with Len Brody, CEO of

“I’m not a believer in local anymore,” he said. “I used to think that hyperlocal was what mattered to people, but for 35 and under especially, the concept of local is very different. Like Facebook publishing the news feed — it’s changed from hyperlocal to hyperpersonal.” Brody said weather, traffic and crime are becoming commodities, and while local politics may have some differentiation, nobody cares about it anymore.

Now we can fight over what hyperlocal means.

(Reminds me of a panel I did for Kelsey with Greg Sterling a few months back. I uttered “hyperlocal” and Sterling said, “Please stop using that word.” I said, “No.” For the moment, it’s a useful term because it describes a certain strategic philosophy that has been hot recently; however, I agree, it is ultimately meaningless — the whole idea of hyperlocal is just what good community newspapers should be doing anyway. Hyperlocal only means anything if you’ve been falling down on your community news job.)

Brody is only right if you accept that hyperlocal has only two facets: Weather/traffic and politics.

To me, hyperlocal has never been about politics. In fact, politics is the antithesis of hyperlocal. Hyperlocal is about people. It’s what people do, have done or can do (think, event calendars) where they live. Planning boards and city commissions have very little to do with it.

In fact, where newspapers have lost their way is in getting too wrapped up in the local political game. Too often, the local city hall becomes its own mini-beltway and all the players (including beat reporters) think their actions and their gossip is far more important than anything else in the community.

I’m not concerned that “hyperlocal” is the wrong strategy. I’m more worried about whether we can actually execute on it. Will our editors and reporters ever willingly forsake a few meetings at city hall in favor of a Eagle Scout promotion or volunteer fire department carnival? (And to reach younger readers, those are probably the wrong subjects of coverage, too.)

The other part of a hyperlocal strategy, which includes the hyperpersonal Brody mentions, is part technique and part programming. There’s no reason we can’t do that.

Be sure to read the rest of Brody’s interview. It’s otherwise worthwhile and pretty on track.