I am allowed the chance at American Public Media and Minnesota Public Radio to work with others trying to find new ways of getting news information out to an audience. I was recently asked to guess at the future of the newsroom. Here’s what I wrote:
The future newsroom – A networked reality
Let’s dispense with one myth about the future of journalism right off the bat: That a world where anyone can publish information means the end of the professional journalist.
Sure, a visit to a media-watcher website like Romenesko - with its almost daily posts about newsroom layoffs and industry tumult - could give an impression that the professional journalist’s days are numbered.
Then you read a survey by the Reynolds Journalism Institute (RJI) asking people about their preferences when it comes to getting news. Nearly two-thirds of respondents agreed with the following statement: “I prefer news stories produced by professional journalists”
When asked if they agree with the statement “news is news; it doesn’t matter to me who produced it,” nearly the same percentage said no.
So while audiences eagerly swim in the Internet’s sea of information, they see a role for the full-time practitioners telling stories. This is an opportunity.
The newsroom of the future seizes this opening by perfecting a new emphasis for reporters and editors - one where journalists become sense-makers of information, context providers of momentary events and arbiters of information supported by fact.
Up until the Internet revolution, journalists may have claimed these roles. But, in reality, they relegated them secondary pursuits behind the need to “feed the beast” by producing event-driven reporting and breaking stories because they were easiest to do.
But thanks to that great change agent, the Internet, and the digital tools at our disposal, newsrooms should no longer fear making sense-making a priority.
Newsrooms have more to do in establishing how they will participate in new world of Internet information. They will, in fact, come to embrace the idea of a networked newsroom.
This requires journalists to embrace a “call and response” type of reporting, one that taps into the previously untouched reservoir of audience intellect and expertise. RJI fellow and visiting professor Joy Mayer shows the untapped gaps in graphic form – where news users help the journalist through the reporting and editing phases and then the news producers actively seek out, and sift through, audience reactions after the story is told.
This more networked journalist communicates day-to-day activities in a public way. She will write posts as reporting develops. He will produce fuller stories and point back to material produced by him or others as support. The networked journalist will query those who have a connection to the news using all means possible. She has a beat - but that beat becomes a daily conversation around a topic.
The networked journalist also understands they are no longer defined as “print” reporters or “radio” reporters, but instead tell stories through all media forms. And he knows to deploy a mode of expression when it serves the story-telling best and when it serves the conversation around his beat coverage.
And the networked newsroom understands that people can easily put themselves in silos of information, consuming what satisfies their world view. Social media can exacerbate this. So this newsroom takes the initiative and becomes an active convener of cross-community conversations. These newsroom leaders know that “community” isn’t just defined by place, but by circumstance or interest.
This newsroom takes the time to explain why learning from those outside your worldview will advance your own understanding. And they set ground rules for meaningful expression. And these journalists do this while providing “a foundation of fact and context” so that discussions will inform. (That’s a notion coming directly from The Elements of Journalismby Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel).
This newsroom of the future has left behind what Dan Gillmor, director of the Knight Center for Digital Media, called the model of journalism that “produces and distributes” and now participates in a “come and get it” approach.
And far from the death of the professional journalist, the networked newsroom will require practitioners that convene as they report, communicate as they learn, collaborate as they explain.