Content Ninja's Weblog

An exploratory journey on the edge of newspaper evolution

What’s in a name? April 14, 2008

A ball of navel lintImage via Wikipedia

A lot of meaning and baggage and history, not to mention self-worth, that’s what.

Photo guy Paul Jensen was reading my blog and stopped me today to ask just what I meant by the word “reporter.” You can see where he is going with this, and it raises a good point.

Lots of terms have been bandied about — reporter, content gatherer, subject matter expert and its acronym SME. They demonstrate how words can be inadequate to fully express what is meant.

Take reporter, for example. Nearly 250 years of newspaper history suggest that means a person who writes words, but what about photos, video, blogs, etc.? OK, content gatherer suggests content is not just words, but it and subject matter expert are broad, undefined, even vague terms. (After all, you could be a subject matter expert of belly-button lint, but does the community really need that expertise? Then again, a great many bloggers are accused of navel gazing, so maybe we do need that.)

The latter terms smack of new-media-speak. Sometimes we just try too hard. (Consider “waste disposal engineer.” No matter how you dress that up, the job is still about garbage.)

So let’s call a spade a spade, shall we? We should unapologetically use “reporter” and mean a reporter of content in myriad forms. When we engage our community and ask members to contribute content, we’re not going to set limits. “Just the words, ma’am” is not part of the vocabulary. Perhaps we should consider doing away with content specialization inside the newsroom, too.

In the end, though, a label is just that. Does it matter what we call ourselves? What counts is how we get the job done, and that’s where the greatest potential for change and innovation are.