Editor as news gatherer

Editor as news gatherer

: I think we’re getting ready to define a new job description of the journalist.

One of my favorite soundbites — oh, I got a million of ’em — is that we in the press need to think of ourselves not just as news creators but also as news gatherers, collecting news from inside and outside our newsrooms and sharing it wherever, whenever, and however people want.

Or to say it in another obnoxious soundbite: We need to stop being controllers and start being enablers.

I read Stephen Baker’s post on the Businessweek Blogspotting blog recounting lunch at a Korean restaurant (note outsourcing irony) with a media exec who argued that we will soon the rise of a new kind of newsperson. They see it as a new kind of reporter.

I think it’s a new kind of editor who gathers and sifts and vets and shares and guides and goads — and does all that not just with beat reporters but with beat citizens: readers turned writers.

Baker and lunchmate think these people will be higher paid because of their multimedia skills. As editors, that may be true (though multimedia skills are today the birthright of the young: no big deal). As reporters, I think, however, that there will not be a scarcity of talent and eagerness out there — witness the blogs — and so payment for reporting could decline. From their lunch:

He said that the day of the classic “beat reporter,” is coming to an end. Replacing the legions of beat reporters banging out their stories in newsrooms, he predicts, will be a far smaller group of so-called multimedia journalists. These people will be higher paid. They will know how to harvest the knowledge of experts and citizen reporters alike, and will fashion new journalistic products out of various media. They will have entrepreneurial skills and many will create their own brands….

In many ways, the trend he described to me (as we struggled with metallic chop sticks in a Korean eatery) mirrors what is happening in the software industry. There, many of the commodity jobs are moving offshore. The winners are those who can put together entire projects, who know how to manage cross-cultural teams, who understand the business and can deal with customers.

More and more, the winners in the industries I’m seeing are those who–inside or outside a company–can run their own show.

(Cue quotes from Tom Friedman’s The World Is Flat.)

: So imagine the job description of a real city editor of the near future. Duties include:

1. Aggregate, organize, and highlight the best of newsroom and citizen media: good reporting, good story ideas, new viewpoints, public pulse points.

2. Make assignments inside and outside the newsroom: You need someone to cover a school-board meeting where there’s a controversy brewing, you might allocate one of your staff reporters. For another meeting, you might go out to bid with citizen information entrepreneurs, picking someone who has your trust because she has training and a track record. For another meeting, you know that the event will be covered by citizens anyway — some with a stated viewpoint — and you’ll aggregate those. But you’ll make sure that what needs to be covered gets covered. The insiders will be on salary. The outsiders may get a payment or may be part of your company’s ad network or may just get promotion that benefits them when they sell the ads.

3. Identify, train, and support reporting talent: What you have done in the newsroom, you will need to do outside. You will find promising and motivated citizen reporters and put the best into a company training program — or take the best from journalism schools that now serve the industry and the public with citizen training. On an ongoing basis, you will work with this distibuted reporting base to improve their work. You won’t be able to edit every line of every report to which you link, but you will try to educate them — and earn their respect as they earn yours.

4. Share news anywhere, anytime, in any medium: You will package and enable news gatherers to share news as it happens in and through any appropriate medium — text, photo, audio, video, conversation, shared resources.

5. Converse: It’s important to stay in conversation with the community: Get out, meet people, read their blogs, read their comments, respond to them, be a member of the community.

Come to think of it, I know such a journalist. She’s called the Barista.

  • 1. Aggregate, organize, and highlight the best of newsroom and citizen media
    Jeff, there’s a fat word in there that you don’t define. a word that is critical to both the editors and consumers. The word is “best.”
    What is the best newsroom and citizen media? As a consumer, what can I expect from someone who is aggregating the best? Is the best the same for all, or different for each media product?
    As an editor, what basis do I use to decide what is the best? What are the practices and procedures of the profession that help me understand and identify the best?
    I’m interested to hear how you would define the best of media.

  • Jenny: Absolutely right. That word keeps getting me in trouble. What’s best for you isn’t best for me; what’s best for one neighborhood isn’t best for another. What’s the word and the basis for inclusion: quality? trusted? useful? credible? I’m not sure. And, yes, that is the essence of standards and reputation in this new world.

  • Barista is great – but not to self promote but this is what we’re attempting at Philly Future as well – except with a all volunteer staff. I’m really, really jeallous of the attention some efforts get :)
    Pretty, pretty please some link-love?

  • Jeff, I ask because if everything is best, then nothing is best. Then it’s just a cacophony. You will have to define this or the citizen’s media thing will start to sound hollow.
    You’ve identified several things that I think you should use to define best. Transparency–both in the process and procedures and practices, and in the bias and background of the person doing the work. Add to this clarity and depth of ideas, demand for inclusion and completeness. And quality writing–both in mechanics and tone.
    Using a definition with these terms, a website by a neo-Nazi group could be the “best” although I would disagree with the ideas. But I think that’s what you’re after–the best is not about the ideas, it’s about the presentation of the ideas so others can partake and consider.

  • 6. Make it fun.
    Don’t forget what Jon Stewart has taught all of us in the fake/real news business: the most incisive commentary should make you snort with laughter.

  • kirkc

    There is a wide-spread misconception in our business that reporters and editors “create” news. We don’t. We collect, organize, package and distribute news, but we don’t create it. The news (except on the rare occasion when we write about ourselves) always comes from outside the newsroom.
    I didn’t really get citizen media until I grasped this fact. Since then, I’ve been trumpeting in the newsrooms of my company Dan Gilmore’s line about how our audience knows more than we do. The editors don’t want to hear that, but they are starting to accept it. I fear they will realize too late. They are too stuck on the “we own the news” concept.

  • Amen, Barista.

  • John

    The best?
    My $0.02, go back to the roots first, immediately.
    Back to the roots journalism, who, what, when and where. Just the facts.
    Opinion, interpretation, contextualizing, and humor must be presented separately, and identified as such.
    If the facts are in doubt, this must be stated, and updates provided until they are no longer in doubt.
    Surprizingly enough, most Americans are able to digest information without being told what they should think about it.
    They may, however, see the benefit of a touchstone type service, which allows them to compare their thoughts with others, and to speak out as well.

  • When 30 people knelt or sat to pray in a circle in the midst of a school board meeting to protest the demotion of long-time school employee the message was clear. The local weekly “shopper” wasn’t going to cover this – so someone needed to. Thus -www.washingtoncountymonitor.com was born. Want to see the photos that started it all? Go to http://www.wirestreamphotos.com and then go to the school board meeting gallery. Then join us as the community takes one journalist and a handful of citizen advocates and a Mayberry RFD “let’s all get along” attitude and see what really happens to news in rural Kentucky.