CBS: Changing the book, not just the cover

CBS: Changing the book, not just the cover

: Les Moonves, head of CBS, described the changes he plans to bring to CBS News as an effort “to create less of that guy sitting behind the chair who is preaching from the mountain and do something much younger, more of an ensemble feeling.”

My emphasis. He’s looking at CBS News the way a network programmer would: As a sitcom. Ensemble: Here’s the funny guy, here’s the clever woman, here’s the fat guy. I could be describing Seinfeld or the Howard Stern Show or the next rendition of the CBS Evening News.

Fine. Get multiple anchors in multiple cities. Window dressing. Lipstick on a pig. It’s about changing the surface — yes, the face — of the news and not changing what’s behind.

So quit the snarking, Jarvis, what are your suggestions?

: I say they need to invite citizens into their process: yes, even invite blogger-devils into your news meetings. One condition: Tell them they can’t break your scoops before you. But let them see how the sausage is made and let them speak. I know how you’ll respond (I’ve heard it before): People won’t feel free to speak frankly and so they’ll end up having shadow meetings. Well, there’s something wrong with that. Try this: Imagine throughout the entire process of putting out the news — phone calls, interviews, meetings — that you’re being watched by the public you serve.

: Create the means for people to tell you the news they need. No, don’t do more focus groups. Open it up. I know your reflex may be to have people email you or to start an official forum. And then I know you’ll say: But our competitors will read it and steal stories from us. Ah, but they’re doing that today whenever a smart reporter reads citizens’ media and finds a good story big media missed. You should have your people do just that — make it part of their job. And then close the loop: When you get a story from a citizen, let them know. Thank them.

: Let the people contribute news. Thanks to technology, citizens who are witnesses to news can now report it. So use the video they take and the stories they put on their blogs. Learn from the tsunami: You couldn’t get your cameras there for days but the citizens who were witnesses recorded the event for you. Invite people to send you their scoops. Use what they send (yes, after you vet it — better than you did those memoes somebody sent you). And then thank them.

: Create the means for the people to correct you and ask the questions you didn’t ask. Again, I know your reflex will be to do this quietly, to create an email address where people can send you — well, actually, some ombudsman way down the hall from the newsroom — complaints. But I say you should do this in public: start a forum or a wiki and appoint an in-house blogger to link to all the things people are saying about your stories — already, anyway — out her in citizens’ media. Yes, this will start as a snarkfest. Sorry, buy you kind of deserve it. But once you take your blows, if you do this right, I’ll bet it will turn into something more valuable: a conversation about news.

: Jay Rosen and I already suggested that CBS make public its complete interviews and source material.

: Joe Territo suggests that if CBS wants a younger audience, it should move the CBS Evening News later: CBS Late News.

It’s all about — once again — tearing down the walls that separate you from the public you serve. Don’t be scared of the masses. Join them.

: So here’s one more: Have your reporters and producers blog. I know what you’re going to say: It’s not edited; we don’t know what they’re going to say. But look at it another way: This is a way to engage in a conversation with the public. I just had an email exchange with one of the participants in this weekend’s Harvard journalism-meets-bloggers confab at Harvard, who questioned my contention that reporters should reveal their background and perspective. He wondered how much is enough or too much and who determines that. I said the public will. This isn’t about filling out a one-size-discloses-all form or putting up a resume. Why not have reporters blog? Why not let the public ask whether you’re a church-goer — to probe your experience or your perspective, that’s up to them — after you report on a religion story? Why not use the form to explain your view? Doesn’t the reader/viewer/user/public deserve to know your perspective? When they ask, shouldn’t we have the means to answer? When we know they will ask, shouldn’t we tell them?