An outline for taking ownership of your stories

Reporters who own their jobs with an entrepreneurial spirit and energy will also own each story they do. What does story ownership mean?

  • You generate your own story ideas.
  • You decide the angle, who to talk to, where to gather information and what you do with it.
  • As you gather information, you find and save any relevant links.
  • You decide what other assets the story needs — video? a map? a pdf? a database? a graphic? pictures? You then either create or get created those assets.
  • When you write the story, you include appropriate links (to names, locations, documents, previous stories, blogs and previous coverage).
  • You gather all of the assets, publish the story in draft form and let an editor know it’s ready (with the expectation that the story will be live on the web within 10 minutes).
  • When the story is published, you socially bookmark the story as appropriate; you send the link to bloggers you know who might be interested; you e-mail the link to sources or readers you know would be interested.
  • After the story is published, you follow and participate as appropriate in the online conversation, either via comments on the story or on other sites (blogs and forums).
  • You take everything you’ve learned and repurpose the story for print.
  • If the conversation brings to light any new significant information, you plan a new story and the process starts over.

Editors, are you writing this into your job descriptions?

Maybe it’s journalism itself that is the problem

The issues facing journalism today are not a technology problem, but an audience problem.

Declining readership did not begin in 1994, when the web began to take hold.

Household penetration began to drop in the 1930s. Serious readership declines accelerated in the 1970s.

There is no one reason why newspaper dominance of media started its decline 7o years ago. There was the advent of broadcast media, and changes in society (more working women, depressions and wars, new societal attitudes, changing class structures and commute patterns), but during that same time, literacy and education levels rose, women entered professional and educated life, the leisure time available for citizens to get involved with their communities increased, and soaring revenue for newspaper publishers allowed them to greatly expand staffs during most of the 20th Century (it’s one of the paradoxes of newspaper publishing that while readership declined, ad rates and linage went up).

In other words, one could reasonably conclude that newspapers should have benefited from circulation increases during the very time they were losing market share (for most of the 20th Century, actual subscriber numbers increased, while household penetration decreased at a faster pace).

From the 1970s through the close of the century, there were more newspaper journalists employed at all levels, and because of the explosion of journalism schools in the later half of the century, they were better trained than ever. And because of the likes of Woodward and Berntein, they were substantially motivated and inspired to do great, important work.

Yet, real readership declined.


Could it be, that journalism itself is at fault?

In the 1930s that the likes of of Walter Lippman began to agitate for a more professional journalism class, and journalism schools began to proliferate. Up until journalism became a profession rather than a trade, entrepreneurial publishers determined the tone and style of the journalism they published. Publishers paid attention to readers needs and wants, and hired and trained editors and reporters accordingly; whereas the professional journalist hues to a higher standard of story selection and presentation with considerations far removed from what readers might prefer.

We could debate which model is “better” in the academic sense, but my only real concern here is what’s better in the business, real-world sense. Being academically correct when it comes to marketplace competition doesn’t put food on the table. All of the high-minded ideals in the world don’t mean a thing if nobody reads your stories.

Previously, I said the issue for newspaper journalism is not a technology problem, but an audience problem.

Technology does play a role, however. It is the accelerator, the starter fluid that is putting both heat and light on the short comings of present-day journalism.

Consider again that while readership declined, newspaper revenue growth could only be slowed by recessions. Every decline or stagnation of revenue growth was merely a cyclical nuisance, not a harbinger of death. But up until the start of the current recession, newspaper revenue in recent years, especially in classified categories, was under constant downward pressure, while the overall economy continued to grow. That was a historical first.

The only way to save journalism, then, is to figure out how to spark audience growth.

My humble proposal, then, is that individual journalists start paying attention to what readers want. That was the point behind my reader satisfaction post. The goal is to find some meaningful measure of reader satisfaction and fashion a new journalism that meets reader needs.

I’m not saying I have the answer, just saying — we need to find measurements that help us discover a path forward.

A point to stress, however: This is not a puppie dogs vs. Iraq debate (see video of Sam Zell in Orlando), or a Britney Spears vs. election coverage argument (see Jim O’Shea’s farewell address). The focus on specific content subjects misses the larger point. The straw man of such supposed pandering evades the key issue.

The issue is, the current way important news is gathered, reported and written isn’t working. It hasn’t been working for several decades. It’s only now becoming a crisis, thanks to the likes of Craig Newmark,, and

As we examine what journalism should look like in the 21st Century, we should also look hard at just how professional supposed professional journalism is. Today I heard a CEO of a large insurance firm talk about the day his company eliminated 200 jobs — 200 out of 40,000. He talked about how he prepared his employees for the media onslaught he knew was coming, with anchors bellowing and headlines screaming about the downturn of the company’s fortunes. These weren’t even layoffs, but merely the elimination of unfilled positions.

There is something wrong with a journalism that can’t honestly put the context of events in an accurate light, but must play up the most sensational angle. We all know the CEO’s story is not an isolated incident, and it isn’t merely a TV-journalism condition, but something endemic to present-day journalism, print and broadcast.

If our readers so easily recognize that what we do isn’t trustworthy for its accuracy both in fact and spirit, then how can we expect to retain them as readers?

Something needs to change.

Discovering a journalism that does what journalism should do — match the needs of society rather than dictate to society what people should want from journalism — will be real hard work, and it will challenge assumptions and afflict comfortable mind sets.

I would like to think that journalists who entered this career with high minded ideals are up to the challenge.

UPDATE: Josh Korr is doing some ruminating on this top. Click here for some interesting reading (and follow the links).

Update on Ken and Matt

If you ever want to point a finger at the person to blame for my getting into blogging, it would not be incorrect to point it at Ken Layne.

Layne was one of the first and best journalist-bloggers, starting in something like 1999. (I’ve known Ken since the early 1990s when he was a reporter at another small daily in San Diego County and played in a band with my high school chum and roommate.)

Click that link above and you’ll find a blog. But not his old blog. Either by accident or design, all of his old posts have disappeared from the blogosphere. In other words, you can’t read his brilliant posts about crows and religious politics. Now, Layne posts something ocassionally, and occassionally I read it.

He’s one of the best damn writers I know, and he should blog more.

At least AOL was smart enough to give him a column.

Thanks to Ken, I met Matt Welch, formerly of the Los Angeles Times, now returning to Reason Magazine, and already getting promo from the Washington Post. Matt also has a book out. Rumor has it Matt has some new music coming out, too. If you can’t wait, there’s always Ken Layne and the Corvids.

The folly of censorship in a networked world

One of the first things I learned about the Internet was that it was designed so that information could route around trouble spots.

That is more than a technological marvel, it has significant cultural implications.

I believe there are more libertarians today simply because by its very nature, the Internet encourages low barriers, transparency and fewer restrictions. Because of that a mindset of openness naturally follows for long-time netizens (you don’t see that word much any more, do you?)

Here’s an example of information routing around trouble: A TV station that was taken off the air by the Venezuelan government has re-emerged on YouTube. (via e-Media Tidbits).

Governments that attempt censorship in the networked age engage in folly.

At 10,000-plus subscribers, the channel is already the most popular on YT, beating out #2 by more than 6,000 subscribers.

Online gambling law will test the limits of government

Even if you have no interest in Internet gambling, you should take a moment to ponder how Congress’s latest attempt to ban the online activity will play out. We may learn a lot about the government’s power to control online lives.

The new law is going to be tested both online and in the courts. The biggest test of the law will come in the online poker world.

  • There is already a legal president in the US that poker is a game of skill, and therefore is not gambling.
  • PokerStars, one of the world’s largest poker sites, has already announced that it will continue to accept funds and make payouts for US customers.
  • One of the most popular online payment services for poker players, Neteller, will continue to handle transactions for US customers. Neteller is based in Canada.

In my early days on the Net, somebody pointed out to me that the nature of networks is to route traffic around trouble. That innate ability of networks to find the groves where information and activity flows freely is the biggest hindrance governments face in trying to control what people say and do online. The Internet is inherently a libertarian environment. This law presents a opportunity to see if that concept is true.

As a side note: The bill doesn’t ban online, state-run lotteries or placing online horse racing bets.

Progammers: Master RegEx

There are a few books that I think every programmer should own, no matter the favored language. One of them is Mastering Regular Expressions. This Slashdot post, then, was heart-warming to find. Personally, I never mastered RegEx, but I learned enough to be awed by the power of the concept.

MacBooks rock, but I bought my wife a Compaq

The new MacBookPro rocks, according to Leander Kahney, writing for Wired.

I’m pretty happy with my plain vanilla MacBook.

For me, it’s like two computers in one.

And it is pretty darn fast.

On the Windows side, it’s not as stable as I would like. There is some quirkiness with keyboard mapping, but it’s functional.

Yesterday, I bought my wife a new desktop — a Compaq Persario, which I got on sale (after rebates) for $179. What a deal. It’s a 1.8 Ghz AMD processor and more RAM and HD than the desktop I’m replacing for her (which was pretty near top of the line four years ago). All she does is e-mail, Web and MS Word. I also replaced our 10-year-old Dell monitor with a wide aspect (I LOVE wide aspect) Envision monitor for $159 (after rebates).

I saved so much on the computer and monitor, I bought a new HP printer/scanner, too. The printer will take every kind of memory card imaginable to print photos straight from the card to photo paper.

Billie’s pretty happy. The old computer was just becoming too unstable and she was getting pretty frustrated with it. I wanted to wait until we moved, and I was even considering get her a MacBook, but there will be more peace in the house now …

Dig through my closet on Ebay

We’ve been selling some stuff on Ebay recently with some success. The best sellers so far has been poker books. CDs did OK. Baseball cards, not so much, though I did get $46 for my Roger Clemens rookie card.

Now we’re into clothing, clothing accessories and collectibles.

Right now, we have 19 items on Ebay, with more TK. If you like vintage clothing, my wife is still some great pieces.

The current surprise of the moment is this belt buckle, which is approaching $32 in bids with a bit more than a day left in the auction.

This old leather jacket my dad gave me when I was a kid has five people watching it, has generated two questions (including somebody offering $45 for immediate purchase), but no bids yet. One day left of this one.

I’m also selling the Padres windbreaker I’ve had since I was about 11 or 12.

I just listed this very cool cowgirl duster from my wife’s collection.

In the music-death category are these items related to John Lennon, Curt Cobain and Country Dick Montana. The CDM items are of particular interest to me simply because its so closely tied to my personal history. I knew Dan McLain (Country Dick) in high school, was friends with co-founder of the Beat Farmers Buddy Blue, and wrote an award-winning obit about Country Dick in 1995.

Don’t ask me why I saved all this crap. I don’t know.

If you’re interested, bookmark my Ebay page … we’ll try to add stuff every day for the next couple of weeks. And if you live in Bakersfield, watch this blog for an announcement of our upcoming garage sale, where we’ll sell off even more stuff we don’t need that TBC paid for us to haul over here from Ventura (and that doesn’t count the three garbage cans of stuff I’ve thrown out in the last week).