The Mood of the Newsroom

Tim Porter writes:

The amount of anger and hostility, of distrust and suspicion, of inertia and ennui that pollutes the journalistic environment in these newsrooms at first surprised me….

It is a venom whose toxicity, fed by the same sort of outwardly-directed anger and suspicion that floods the waning days of all diminishing industries, weakens all hope these reporters and editors and photographers have of imagining a future in which journalism survives but its form is vastly different….

The obdurance and avoidance endemic in newsrooms rests on a bedrock belief that the “problems” at their newspapers are best solved with more bodies or a return to a more “traditional” form of journalism….

In these same newsrooms where the nattering nabobs of nostalgia pine for days of yore, there are also forward-thinking reporters and editors and photographers who envision and are working to create a journalistic future built on new story forms, deeper community connections and more truth-telling and watch-dogging….

We are in a time of great transition in journalism. The tectonics of technology, demographics, economics and lifestyle are disrupting the ground on which newspaper journalism stood for half a century. Survival requires nimbleness, openness and a sense of the possible. The intransigent and the angry and the incurably nostalgic will fall into the cracks….

Jeff Jarvis has some suggestions:

1. Set a strategic imperative for change. From both the top down and the bottom up, there has to be an agreement — an urgent passion — for change: for updating, improving, finding new ways.

2. Listen to the public. Don’t just go to another focus group about the paper. Go listen to the people who don’t read the paper but want news. Learn how they’re getting it now: They no longer have the patience to wait for the news; the news waits for them to search for it, click on it, have it recommended. Ask them about trust and brace yourself. Read Merrill Brown’s Carnegie report.

3. Perform a business reality check. Read Tim’s post: The solution is still presumed to be adding more bodies. But when revenue is declining, that’s obviously not realistic. Classified and retail are in decline; there are new inexpensive and free competitors; audience is declining. So new business models must be invented.

4. Catalogue the opportunities for delivering news. No longer constrained to a printing press and truck route, list all the wonderful new ways that you can deliver news. If you want the public to get its news from you then you’d better give it to them wherever and however they want.

5. Catalogue the opportunities for gathering news. Insert hyperlocal citizens’ media spiel here. The public knows more than we ever can. How do we enable them to share that with others — with content, promotion, training, trust, money?

6. Reinvent the product. After doing that homework, after dynamiting old assumptions, after starting a conversation with the public — a converstion that should never end — now, it’s time to reinvent the product and the business and the industry of news.

7. Reinvent the relationship with the public. Now you can change the way the public views news. Hugh McLeod said, and I often quote it, that we need to stop thinking of newspapers (and their sites) as things but rather as places where help bring people together.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.