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An exploratory journey on the edge of newspaper evolution

Seeing is believing May 27, 2008

Filed under: innovation,journalism — contentninja @ 12:21 pm
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Because I’m making up for the long holiday weekend, y’all get two posts today.

Last week, Paul Bradshaw, writing at the Online Journalism Blog, did the world a service by pulling together his diagram for “A Model of the 21st Century Newsroom” and author Charlie Beckett’s “SuperMedia” diagram, which builds on Bradshaw’s work.

What started as a p-ssing match between boys over giving credit where it’s due has since been resolved amicably. And it wasn’t the point anyway. What’s important is what a good job these diagrams do of visually charting what so many of us have/are coming to realize is reporting’s future.

Here we see how reporting will move from text alert to online draft to a contextual piece in tomorrow’s newspaper, with plenty of public interaction along the way that builds context at a wiki and then a database. Read the comments on Bradshaw’s original post, and you’ll be struck by how revolutionary people find this, but it IS where we’re going. I consider it a given even.

My one point of pushback is this. The diagrams chart “the big story.” Beckett’s example is a fire. It could be a-mile-and-a-half-wide tornado ripping through rural NE Iowa. OK, but news is maybe 3 percent big stories and 97 percent small stories. (The choice of terms is only to show the contrasting relationship and should not be construed to mean “small stories” have less worth. Quite the contrary, as a former features editor, I’d argue that the small stories and soft news are what differentiate newspapers and add the most value to the traditional product.)

It may not make sense to report the small stuff this way, too. Could the small stories bypass some steps, like analysis? Where does features reporting fit in this equation? Do features simply become the stuff of niche products, and news sites/newscasts/newspapers stick with big stories? And the small stories that fit neither mold live in company-sponsored online communities?

I don’t have the answers. Check out the charts, and tell me what you think.

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5 Responses to “Seeing is believing”

  1. iowakitkat Says:

    No matter where a story “lives” or which steps it bypasses or uses, the key boils down to another quote from OJB:

    “If there’s a story on the election in every paper, what can you do to bring in visitors? If every paper carries a match report, what makes yours distinctive? In a world of infinite information, where’s your ‘wow’ factor to get people talking?”

  2. Dale Says:

    I think features get much the treatment we sometimes give them now, only much more so — we complement and embellish the printed product in the online presentation and in the process build traffic patterns. A fashion feature could be accompanied online by additional photos and shopping information, who’s wearing it, patterns for the do-it-yourselfer, fashion feedback comments, links to other fashion outlets, a “Project Runway” blog, etc.

    I was struck by your basic premise. It seems like every time we get together to discuss something like this, we use the “big story” to illustrate how we’ll do things. We leave the meeting, sit down at our desks and say, “OK, it’s Wednesday, where’s my big story?”

  3. paulbradshaw Says:

    I’d be inclined to think that features become increasingly reliant on a community angle, along with the idea of ‘service journalism’. I’m going to have a think about this one…

  4. contentninja Says:

    More questions: Perhaps the focus on big story/hard news models is why features staffs across the country are being gutted in the name of 21st-century reorgs? Is relegation to the sidelines a given for features writing?

    I don’t want to be too features-focused in this exploration, but I do think my basic point is sound: What’s the plan for soft news reporting?

    More thoughts, anyone …

  5. Dale Says:

    Some days the majority of my reading is “soft news,” so I’d suggest not relegating it to the sidelines. Wiser folks than I will need to find the right platform for it, but let’s keep it readily available even if it has to be niche status. We can’t pontificate all the time, nor can we give folks the stuff we think they need to know all the time. I’d wager that readership of the advice columns is far heavier than that of county supervisor stuff. If we pay attention, readers (or browers and viewers) will let us know what they want and how they want it — I hope!


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