For no particular reason, I found myself looking at Google Analytics and decided to open the calendar all the way back to 2007.
I discovered that the most popular post I’ve written in that time (and probably since I started blogging in 2002) is “Ten Things Journalists Can Do to Reinvent Journalism,” published Feb. 16, 2008. It’s been viewed more than 40,000 times. If I go back month-by-month since 2008, it is consistently among the top 10 posts for each month.
So, I just re-read it, and I found, not surprising, given nearly four more years of experience, I don’t agree with everything it says.
The first two points could be summed up as “don’t treat journalism as an ego feed.” Setting aside for a moment that I’m the last one who should lecture anybody on ego, that overall point is something I still agree with. The reader needs to come before your own journalistic pride. The point I would dispute is the importance of being first with a story. I used to think readers didn’t care about who is first with a story. Since starting The Batavian, I’ve learned that readers very much pay attention to consistently is first with stories and they award points to news organizations that get the scoops. When I was a print reporter, no readers ever seemed to care about such matters, but for online news, it’s a critical bonus.
There are some points, of course, I still agree with, and there are items that I would state differently, which leads to a new list of “Ten Things Journalists Can Do to Reinvent Journalism.”
- Start your own online news site. You’re not going to make dent in the universe working for a newspaper company, or any chain news organization. Get out now. Pursue your own passion and your own dream, stick to it, and you will accomplish something that matters.
- Connect to the community you serve, whether it’s geographic or focused around an interest. Be passionate about that community and do your best to meet all of its informational needs. Make sure your site is indisputably essential to the community you serve. Readers trust news organizations that look out for their interests. Be that kind of news organization.
- Cover the big and the small. Focus on people, not government actions and process (though, obviously, this can’t be ignored). A continuous stream of news will include stories about dead deer, city council hi jinx, cows in the roadway, misappropriation of funds, great-grandma’s 100th birthday, etc. Focus on people more than politics.
- Be a real person. Your byline matters. You will be a more trusted source if people have some sense of who you are. You don’t need to open up every aspect of your life to public disclosure, but sharing selective details helps people connect with you and makes them more interested in what you report.
- Publish what you know when you know it and let stories unfold incrementally. This also brings your readers into the process, adding information, providing new tips, correcting errors.
- Be absolutely ethical in how you handle information. Be as truthful and accurate as humanly possible. Part of the new information ethics, however, is also about correcting others errors where you find them. Don’t let misinformation spread, because it spreads too quickly these days.
- Be transparent. Be transparent about who you are and what you believe. Be transparent about your news process. Truth is transparent. Always be truthful.
- Forget old-school objectivity. For readers to connect with you, they need to see your passion. Let readers in on what you care about. It’s impossible to report and write a truly objective story anyway, so be transparent about your point of view.
- Give the readers what they want. Feedback is very important. Seek it out and pay attention to it and provide the kind of coverage readers seem to enjoy.
- Don’t give the readers what they want. Sometimes, you need to give them a little castor oil along with the candy and ice cream. At the end of the day, you’re not truly carrying about the community if you’re not also providing the kind of truthful coverage that might make some people uncomfortable.