Ten things journalists can do to reinvent journalism, the new list

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.”

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Be transparent. Be transparent about who you are and what you believe. Be transparent about your news process. Truth is transparent. Always be truthful.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

29 thoughts on “Ten things journalists can do to reinvent journalism, the new list

  1. Pingback: Reinventar el periodismo: diez ideas de Howard Owens - Puroperiodismo

  2. With a qualified exception to No. 8, I agree with each. I say “qualified” because, while it’s important that you display voice and “call it like you see it” at times, it ought not be permission to be dogmatic, belligerent or didactic.

  3. I agree. I also believe that being truthful and accurate is incompatible with being dogmatic, belligerent or didactic.

    Though, personally, I reserve the right to be categorical :)

  4. I agree with each…….’a journalism that offers solutions and demonstrates the causes of conflicts.

    …a journalism that investigates the causes of conflicts and offers solutions”…

  5. Had I stayed a newspaper journalist and not reinvented myself, I would not be employed today. You may be interested in my blog post today where I referenced my career change in A New You for the New Year at bit.ly/AmC1GG

  6. Pingback: JOURNALISME. 10 clés pour aider à réinventer le métier de journaliste « La Social Newsroom

  7. I agree with everything but #8. You can’t write passionately that you personally believe the mayor is a less-than-stellar human being who got elected because of his family name and then expect those who voted for him/her to give you the time of day. If you “passionately” wrote such a story, your quotes from the opposing side would seem silly. Your writing would simply become a column.
    Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t write a passionate, objective story in which you quote the mayor’s critics and fans. And if the mayor keeps screwing up, you keep writing about it.
    But the moment you say, “This is how I personally feel,” you’ve lost your credibility. You are correct that no journalist can truly be objective with a story because we all have inherent opinions, but you must strive to be objective and fair. To state your opinion goes contrary to that goal.

  8. I think I didn’t communicate clearly what I meant by being passionate. It’s not about advocating one side or another, it’s about caring about the issues you cover. It’s important to care, and not just be a detached observer. See above, what I also said about truth and accuracy. If you adhere to facts, you won’t let your bias get in the way of telling a truthful story. It may not be objective in the sense most journalists mean it, but it won’t be propaganda for any preconceived notions, either.

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  10. Pingback: Ten things journalists can do to reinvent journalism, the new list | Online Journalism

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  12. “POP-Lists”, those top ten this and that’s always get more traffic. Last year a top web guy (HuffPo / AOL) told me they get 3 to 1 the number of clicks (and ad revenue) than standard titles. That said, I think audiences are starting to see through the pop-list rouse (cept they’re not yet). I don’t think that was your intent in 2002 or 12′, but clearly some big properties are gaming their audience with what has become a diluted pass at original content.

  13. Oh, I’ll totally cop to using Top 10 lists as traffic drivers. It’s something bloggers figured out as far back as 2002. It’s not a new insight. And I think they’ll always work. It’s a readable format to present ideas, it makes the subject matter more arguable (and people love to argue online), it allows more dissection of the ideas presented. The technique is not necessarily one of driving page views — I don’t give a rip about page views on this blog — but it does help distribute ideas …. while I present my ideas as some sort of holy grail (in all that arrogant glory), I’m smart enough to know I’m not always going to be right, but I’m happy to have my ideas get further distribution and debate. If it takes using a top 10 format to to it, I gladly will. It’s a useful device.

  14. This list was eye-opening. The field is changing so much that writers have to do something to stand out. Simply reiterating facts isn’t enough. I couldn’t agree more with the bit on showing personality. People want to feel like they personally know whose information they’re reading, and making yourself sound like a real person rather than a news outlet will give yourself a certain authenticity that readers are drawn to.

  15. A great article on journalism. It is true that journalism need not essentially be transparent beyond an extent. But Im not for the statement of giving castor oil along with candy and ice cream. The other points were relevant according to me and overall liked the stuff.

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  17. Pingback: Ten things journalists can do to reinvent journalism, the new list | Howard Owens | Articula Confins

  18. Good advice, then and now. You’re essentially describing a one-person news bureau. Much of what you describe (passion, truthfulness, accountabilityu) can and should be part of any mainstream journalist’s brief. Those, to me, are old-school values. Unfortunately, the old-school values that survive most (“objectivity” most especially) continue to thrive despite changing times. The bathwater remains more important than the baby, and more’s the pity.

  19. I agree with this post that is based on journalism. Journalists have to keep some facts and possibilities regarding journalism in mind like be open to openness,experiments etc. I think that openness has,and will continue to be a much bigger part of journalism than in the past.

  20. I agree with this post that is based on journalism. Journalists have to keep some facts and possibilities regarding journalism in mind like be open to openness,experiments etc. I think that openness has,and will continue to be a much bigger part of journalism than in the past.

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