3 principles for reporters and bloggers in a networked era

@dinarickman to verify & contextualise what's online, digitise & make findable what's not, to empower communities & make connections between

Dina Rickman posed a question to me this week about the role of a reporter in our current networked age. I thought I’d expand on my response, shown above. Depending on your point of view, this is either a draft manifesto for networked journalists and bloggers – or a set of gaps in the market; new scarcities in an age of abundance. Here they are:

1. To verify & contextualise what’s online

  • Because finding things to publish isn’t difficult – for anyone.
  • Because the voices that stand out online are those that dig behind the statistics, or give meaning behind the headlines.
  • Because curating context is as important as curating content.

2. To digitise what’s not online & make it findable

  • Because in a networked world, information that’s not online is, to all intents and purposes, for most people hidden.
  • Because journalists have always sought to bring hidden information to a wider audience – but in the networked era that’s no longer a one-way process. SEO, tagging, linking and social media marketing are just as important as publishing.
  • Because online, information has a life of its own: adaptable, aggregatable, mashable.

3. To empower communities & make connections between

  • Because the web is a tool as much as a channel.
  • Because journalists have always been generalists whose strength is in making connections between diverse areas – in the networked era that role is reinvented as a connector.
  • Because serving communities sometimes means looking out as much as looking in.

Any more?

There may be other principles you can add (I hesitate to add ‘telling stories in new ways’, but perhaps it should be there), or other reasons. Please let me know what you think they are, and I’ll update the post accordingly.

21 thoughts on “3 principles for reporters and bloggers in a networked era

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  4. Ian Betteridge

    I think you need to caveat your first point a little. Yes, finding stuff to publish is trivial. But a lot of what you’ll find is also trivia. A core part of a journalists job should always be “uncovering the hidden” – finding stuff that either isn’t known, or that people don’t want to be generally known.

    If you’re finding stuff for the sake of having things to publish, you’re doing it wrong, I think.

  5. Paul Bradshaw

    @ianbetteridge That’s what no.2 was really about, but I agree it should be made more explicit (there’s another side to this which is information thatt’s already online, but also hidden – e.g. since FOI acts some governments use jargon to prevent their documents being findable). Suggested rephrasing welcome!

  6. Ian Betteridge

    Rephrasing is a tough one. My initial thought was “Report, don’t re-report”, which is pithy but not quite good enough! It you wanted to be prosaic, “Find the things that are hidden, and hold them up to the light” sounds nice.

  7. Lucy Thorpe

    “Journalists have always been generalists whose strength is in making connections between diverse areas – in the networked era that role is reinvented as a connector.”

    I really like this and the way it is phrased. For me, it sums up what I am trying to do as a blogger (and former journalist). It also hints at something else that I’ve been pondering. Why is it that the “creative” types seem so much more at home with social media than “business” types ? Is it because that role as a connector is somehow hardwired into the journalsitic mind-set or at least thoroughly learned after years in the job ?
    I’m still working this through. But I will make a note of your quote if I may ?

    1. Ronald Borst

      I agree, the key here being diversity. But in my opinion, our instantly connected world has not changed a reporter’s role, but rather the connectivity has given the journalist an almost unlimited array of tools to manage that diversity truthfully and accurately. But ultimately, the hand that writes is the hand that types.

  8. Pawan Deshpande

    Aside from the above, reporters and bloggers need to wash, rinse and repeat. They need to do this over and over and keep the community they have built informed of the topic.

    Above, you outlined the steps to make content RELEVANT, by verifying and contextualizing it. However, the other part of the equation missing is to make to content RECURRENT, by continually updating, their audience on a regular basis.

    Many bloggers excel at being relevant, but they suffer at being recurrent and their blogs go stale. Being recurrent is a lot of work.

    However, one way of doing this is through content curation by identifying, organizing and sharing content online (and not necessarily just their own content). If you’re interested in this, you can read a few examples in my recent eBook here: http://www.hivefire.com/ebook

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  10. Caitlin Mouton

    New technological innovations and media tools have had a profound effect on the journalism industry. The way content is produced and stories are reported has shifted drastically with the influx of social networking outlets. I thought you did an excellent job of highlighting certain areas that today’s reporters need to focus on when creating content in our “networked age.” I think your first point, that reporters must “verify and contextualize what is online” is the most important. As you mentioned, “finding things to publish isn’t difficult-for anyone,” a statement that addresses the biggest concern I have regarding networked journalism. Anyone can put information online regardless of truth, putting the journalism industry precariously close to falling into a complete media circus where anything and everything can be published as “fact”. Reporters and journalists are the only ones that can protect readers from such a state, by ensuring that content they contribute is factual and informative, not sensationalist and untrue. I think your second suggestion and guideline, “to digitize what’s not online and make it findable”, is less of a concern than your first point. It seems to me that there is almost too much information online, making the first issue of contextualizing and verifying stories and news even more important.

    The only suggestion that I would contribute to your list would be to highlight how essential it is that journalists focus on information over sensationalism and exploitation. As you say, “the web is a tool as much as a channel,” and it is a powerful tool that needs to be utilized in a positive way. Reporters today have so many technological advantages that can allow them to create comprehensive and conclusive reports. With images and video at a reporter’s fingertips and live events covered as they are occurring, it is easy to fall into sensationalist reporting. Reporters today are lucky to live in such a networked age, and its essential that they utilize these tools in positive, responsible, and informative ways.

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  12. Toby Murdock

    Interesting to look at what you say the future of journalism is (and I agree with you): it’s about curating what others produce, creating community, etc. A journalist is becoming less a producer of content and more a filterer and manager of a community, no?

    But what are the tools availble to journalists to do this? It seems to me that the tools are behind the trend. A blog, like this one, isn’t built for many to contribute into. It seems that new tools are needed whereby a journalist can perform the functions you mention: not just producing content on their own, but managing and filtering the contributions of a whole community.

      1. Toby Murdock

        what do you mean by centralized vs. distributed? like tweetmeme as a centralized hub for tweets across all topics? as opposed to this blog being a distributed source of content regarding online journalism?

        media is becoming ever more segmented and niche and i think, past the first tier of mega topics (world news, sports, etc.) that it’s tough for the tweetmeme’s, digg’s, etc. to be very compelling and relevant in the niches. ultimately there needs to be an element of editorial judgement–combined with bringing in the crowd–to make sites in the niches really effective.

        of course i’m a particularly interested party in this issue as my company provides just the sort of platform we’re discussing. i’d be eager to get your feedback on it.

      2. Paul Bradshaw

        Yes, I’m struggling to articulate it. A better example would be Help Me Investigate, which does provide a tool for journalists to manage contributions and crowdsourcing. I like the look of Grogger…

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