No. 7: Make it a dialogue

For those who haven’t read Rob Curley’s article in The Journalist, you need to.  It will inspire you.

Those just getting into this new era of journalism, and there are many, can use the article as a barometer of just where they stand.  More importantly, they will be able to gauge where their employer stands.  Go through Rob’s seven steps to save the industry, which we’ve tried to discuss further on this blog.  You can take stock of what’s going on in your news organization and see how far along, or how far behind, you are.

Now to be fair, Rob’s discussion on this point was about opening a diablogue between a newsroom and it’s readers.  That’s important.  But I’d like to expand this a bit to talk about the dialogue we should be having as journalists.

This is your career we’re talking about.  These seven steps also will serve as the basis for being able to get a journalism job in the future.  Print clips just aren’t going to be enough anymore.  You’re going to have to show you’re capable of telling stories in many different ways.   If you can do this, you’re talents will be in demand.

News outlets that are losing money will be looking for folks who can do this.  I think it’s going to go from an employers’ market, where many newsrooms threatened layoffs to keep the ranks, to an employees market, where those scrambling to catch up are going to be bidding for the few out there who can produce the goods demanded in an increasingly on-line world.

Those who refuse to change, both on the employer and employee side, will gradually disappear.  Or at least, they will be less significant.

That’s the extent of my predictions for 2008.

Change may be coming sooner than you think.  Andy Dickinson, who has encouraged me and others this past year as we’ve ventured into new territories, says we’ve got six months to get our act together, at least on the video end of the web.  Andy’s insightful predictions have spurred quite a discussion over the past several weeks from Mindy McAdams and others who are really watching how the industry is changing before us.

As you read those posts, go beyond what they are saying about video.  We need to be redefining our skills and they way we deliver content to readers.

Because, as the title of this post indicates, we are entering into an age where a dialogue with our readers will drive what we do.

We are already seeing editors watching web stats and seeing what readers are really reading. I always like to point out when a story I wrote gets buried in the print edition but pops into the top 10 on the web, just to say “I told you so.”

This dialogue and metrics and page views and time spent and all the other numbers available to us now, demonstrates how the times are a-chanin’.

When my father worked as a broadcast pioneer in the 1960s, he remembered when as a news director of local television station, someone would ask him “What is news.”

“News,” he’s say, “is what I say it is.”

He was right back then. The news directors and editors used to decide what people heard and watched and read.  That was the news of the day.

Now, readers decide what they want.  And with the whole word just a click away, they can decide whether their news comes from their local newspaper.com, TV.com, or across the ocean from BBC or Al Jezeera.

What we have to decide is how we keep people engaged in their own communities and what’s important around them or right next door amid increasingly shorter attention spans and a myriad of choices

To do that, we may have to step outside our comfort zones.  We may have to convince editors in love with bureaucracy and minutia of planning and zoning or city budgets that they should hear when people are clamoring for more information about health care. Maybe it’s deciding that the best way to tell a story is with a compelling video and not with words.  Or maybe words speak much better than pictures.

And if the most popular hit of the day is yet another Britney Spears crises, we are going to have to figure out how to get people to come back and click on the news that really matters to their lives, the investigative pieces and information they need to make valid decisions for themselves and their families.

These are the questions facing us all, as journalists, in the coming year.

And as journalist, we had better be prepared to face them.  And respond to them.

We’d better not just be having this discussion with our readers.

We should be having it with ourselves.

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