Was/Is/Will be

Mark Glaser attempts to start a memegame getting us all to make comparisons between the way the news business was and will be. I’ll argue that we’re in the present tense in some cases. He includes one of mine and asks for more. Play along. Here’s Glaser’s start (with my notes in itals)…

The way it is: Editors assign stories to reporters.
The way it will be: The community helps with story generation through special online forums, blogs and other interactive mechanisms.
The way almost it is: See NewAssignment.net and Chris Anderson’s efforts to transparently edit Wired.

The way is: Editors choose which letters to print in the Letters to the Editor section.
The way it will be: An online forum allows all letters to be posted in full.
The way it almost is: See the Economist’s new effort to put up all letters for all to see and Anderson’s plan, again, to have the public vote on which letters to publish. I’ll argue, though, that the letter to the editor is an outmoded form. Who wants to speak to editors? We want to speak to the audience. Replace the letter to the editor with the letter to the public.

The way it is: A story runs in the newspaper and is posted online on the newspaper website. Perhaps another day, the reporter files a follow-up story.
The way it will be: The story runs in the newspaper and is posted online, and then is constantly updated by editors, the reporter and the readers in the community.
The way it almost is: The Guardian and other papers start publishing stories that were destined for print online. That opens the door to corrections and improvements from the public. We’re not seeing a lot of that yet. But we will.

The way it is: Newspapers are printed and delivered to homes and businesses.
The way it will be: Newspaper content is beamed to special reader devices that are lightweight, flexible and use low power.
Not the way it is: I’m not a member of the epaper, eink cult. I already have a lightweight device: my phone. There will be others. But I think it’s a mistake to try to replictate the form of the newspaper in another gadget. That has almost been newspapers’ downfall online — replication. Instead, we need innovation. Who cares about the gadget. Get me the news.

The way it is: Breaking news happens in a community, and a reporter is sent to the scene.
The way it will be: Breaking news happens, and the editors and reporter scour the neighborhood for people on-the-scene who might have taken photos, videos or can write up a citizen reports on what happened. link.

The way it is: We consider paid reporters and editors to be professional journalists and everyone else is an amateur with questionable skills.
The way it will be: We consider everyone to be potential journalists, and there are shades of gray between who is a pro and who is an amateur.
Ditto that.

The way it is: Newspapers try to cover all the news themselves.
The way it will be: “Cover what you do best. Link to the rest.” — Jeff Jarvis

So what else?

The way it is: Newspapers are all things to all people.
The way it will be: Newspapers do what they do best, which is usually local (see above).

The way it is: Newspapers are products.
The way it will be: newspapers are networks.

The way it is: Newspapers have deadlines and editions.
The way it will be: Newspapers are never done. (See NPR’s effort to start the show that’s never over.)

The way it is: Newsrooms are temples (with reporters and editors as a priesthood holding onto what they think are unique skills).
The way it will be: Newsrooms are classrooms (where it is in their interest to improve the journalism done in their larger networks).

The way it is: Newsrooms
The way it will be: Cars

  • Mark Rutledge

    As one who has worked in newspaper newsrooms and bureaus for nearly 20 years, I agree with most of the above comments. The “the way it will be” that envisions editors scrambling to find citizen reports on breaking news, however, invites words of caution. I do believe that journalism has always been a work in progress, a classroom, and a craft that anyone has the “unique” tools to practice. But any editor will tell you that relying on citizen reports without a paid reporter in the mix is as dangerous to the news organization’s credibility as printing information that comes across the scanner about an automobile accident. You simply cannot primarily rely on what is seen and heard by people who have no sense of accountability tied to what they are reporting.
    And besides all that, editors have enough on their plates without having to edit and check facts for a world of scanner buffs. When it comes to that, look for the editors to jump ship. Then what you have is a heap of unchecked news organizations that readers will soon decide are not worth their attention.

  • The way it is – you find the news.
    The way it will be – the news finds you.
    (We already see some of this with RSS feeds, custom pages, etc. In the future, you could receive a phone call informing you of something important (“The Mets lost!” or “The Fed just lowered interest rates!” (note that only news that ends in an exclamation mark deserves to phoned in)) just as you would if someone in your family were in a car wreck or won the lottery. That’s personalized news.

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  • The way it is: The news expects you to care about it.
    The way it will be: The news will care about you.

    (Out: Disseminated facts, Misnomered objectivity, Paternalism.
    In: Aggregated POVs, Admitted subjectivity, Fraternalism.)

  • Natalie Sannuti

    Check out KMEG.com. The South Dakota based television station is encouraging citizen reporting through its webpage ” Be a Community Correspondent”.

  • Great concepts, but I agree with Mark’s comment…maybe everyone becomes a potential journalist, but how do we establish standards? You don’t have to have particular training to be a journalist, but isn’t there ultimately some specific benchmark that should be met before you give news (as opposed to opinion). Maybe you are just the press agent for [insert celebrity, cause, corporation, etc.].

    If there is enough trouble in today’s news discerning the press release and video news release, what will more channels and less scrutiny produce?

  • […] the Reader’s election-day experiment helped confirm for him that there’s something to the newspapers-as-networks argument […]

  • Ken

    1) Who, what, when, where, why, and how? And local? Then you’re a reporter; a local one.

    2) Blog an opinion, without text messaging, then you’re a writer with an opinion;

    3) Blog an opinion, with text messaging and video; then you’re a photo reporter, not to be confused with a photo journalist….

    Everyone else thinks they’re a member of the ‘Fourth Estate’ and a thinkyabig.

    The latter is right up there with a whatchamacallit, in the first mover experience of chaos theory.

    — Ken