How to think like a modern-day journalist
In the face of current developments, journalists should embrace an attitude which isn’t dictated by whether they like something or not. The question is more one of relevance and the extent to which the Internet’s abundant possibilities can make journalism better. The parameters of journalism have been greatly redefined. That means journalists need to rethink the way they think. Here are seven ways to get into the mindset of a modern-day journalist.
1) Create your own, personalized news agency
Conventional channels aren’t the only way to find relevant voices. Breaking news is no longer the exclusive domain of traditional newswires and brand-name media organizations. Twitter, Facebook and blogs can be interesting alternative sources. They’re as respectable – or not – as any other source. In other words, the information has to be verified. So it’s a good idea to set up a reliable social circle. During the coverage of the Arab Spring in North Africa, NPR journalist Andy Carvin demonstrated how efficiently that can be done. Social networking sites are teeming with experts on all kinds of topics.
2) Engage in dialogue at eye level with your audience.
Many journalists find it difficult to take a critical look at themselves. A little more humility and the ability to accept criticism wouldn’t be bad. They can help you become a better journalist. User feedback can often be the impetus for finding interesting new topics or discovering shortcomings in your research. Interacting with your audience also helps strengthen the bond you feel to your chosen medium.
3) Use the knowledge of your readers
Jay Rosen, a senior authority on online journalism, once said, “The most valuable thing the New York Times owns is its name and reputation. The second most valuable thing it has: the talent and experience of its staff. The third most valuable thing the Times “owns” is the knowledge and sophistication of its users.” Among the users are experts from all disciplines: lawyers, doctors, teachers, business owners. Frequently they have specific expertise that far surpasses that of journalists. Another aspect is that users are often located in places where the journalist can’t be at that particular moment. So tap into the knowledge of your users. Use crowdsourcing. The Guardian dished up a great example when it enabled its readers to comb through hundreds of thousands of British MPs’ expenses claims.
4) Create transparency
David Weinberger persuasively argues that in the age of the Internet, the concept of objectivity is obsolete. He concludes that transparency is the new objectivity. In today’s world of links and cross-referencing, journalists can’t gain audience trust simply by claiming that information is correct. They can build up a foundation of reliability by disclosing how the came to a particular conclusion. That includes linking to pertinent sources insofar as possible.
5) Be a curator
Manage your information and control information overload with prescient use of filters (search engines, social media, news aggregators). Nowadays journalists need to be able to rein in the immense flow of information. Curating is precisely what contemporary professional journalism involves, in other words, filtering out the reliable, relevant information. That means you have to be conscious of the fact that the automatic selection process of filters can lead to distorted results. On this topic I can really recommend Eli Pariser’s TED Talk describing his concept of filter bubbles.
There’s no copy deadline on the Internet. As opposed to product journalism, process journalism assumes that stories have no clear end. Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian summed it up well when he said, “A reporter may choose not to write a story at all, but to blog it. A blog need not ‘report’ a story in the conventional way: It can link to other reports and to source materials. Within minutes of publication most stories will be subject to challenge or addition or clarification or correction. How we react to, or incorporate, that challenge is of basic concern. A ‘story’, thus told, may have no obvious natural finishing point. The resulting piece of journalism is more fluid than its predecessors. It more closely resembles the real world, which is rarely about neatly cut and dried events with only one narrative version and a finite ending.”
In this sense, journalism can be understood to be a work in progress – one in which the users are involved early in the process. It follows that blogging and tweeting don’t have to be time-consuming activities. On the contrary, a blog can be nothing more than a public notebook which helps the reporter increase his or her knowledge, increase competence and get input from users.
7) Conduct storytelling on multiple platforms
Radio, TV and print are not dead. The Net doesn’t mean the end of conventional forms of media. It expands the possibilities of how I tell stories. If you want to get your stories out there to the public, then make use of those possibilities.
Ask yourself how you want to tell your story via which channels. Does it make sense to start a research blog? Is it worthwhile to integrate users via social media networks? How do you want to ultimately present your story online?
The visual aspect of your story should have high priority. The Internet is inherently a medium for the eye. But that doesn’t mean we only ever use video from now on. Visual thinking begins with the writing. It doesn’t always have to be an epic narrative either. Why not try a pros vs. the cons text, or a Q&A format, or a chronology, and so on. The Boston Globe’s The Big Picture is a great and now widely imitated example of a format that makes good use of the power of photography. Data visualization is becoming an ever bigger topic. It’s opening up new professions and bringing programmers and journalists together around one table.
The Internet gives journalists space and scope for creativity. So with every story, you should ask yourself from the outset: Is there a better visual way to tell this story?
By Steffen Leidel