I’m jumping the gun on putting up this post to serve as the center ring for the May Carnival of Journalism.
Earlier today, I asked the list of carnivalers to consider answering this question at the core of driving innovation at mainstream news organizations:
What should news organizations stop doing, today, immediately, to make more time for innovation?
People ask me a version of this question nearly every day, overwhelmed by the barrage of demands made on them by people like me who roll through their newsrooms and ask them to put in more time on online news.
Think you have the answer? Let’s talk about it in the comments.
I’ll add links below to what the CofJ performers have to say, but here’s a starter link to get the ball rolling:
Matt King, a reporter and beatblogger at what I’d call a small-to-medium sized newspaper in New York, says the low hanging fruit of the police beat is actually a bit of an albatross, and that meeting stories should be the next item up against the wall when the revolution comes.
What do you think? What are we covering that we could turn over to the community? What are we wasting our time on?
- David Cohn, my Knight News Challenge brother-in-arms, says news organizations should save money by dropping AP wire content. I’m with him on this, more or less: No one is subscribing to your newspaper to find out what’s going on outside of a 50-mile radius of your town, unless you’re the New York Times, Washington Post, or USA Today, with few exceptions.
- Pat Thornton, Journalism Iconoclast, says the problem is a staffing issue first and foremost: “Why have two staffs to produce editorial content, when most employees could be creating content that works on multiple platforms?
- Charlie Beckett, Director of the POLIS journalism think think in the UK, lets Dr. Who help explain how new media technology is like time travel, or at least, how it can be for the traditional institutions willing to focus on the advantages it brings along.
- Adrian Monck, a J-School professor in London among other affiliations, is unimpressed with what most local newspapers are up to on the Web: “The online newspaper remains the formula for almost everyone. The paper is still the ‘brand’ – for which read the fraying security blanket on which ad sales are predicated.”
- Alfred Hermida, BBC veteran and journalism educator, takes the pulse of where traditional media stands when it comes to participatory journalism. I definitely think giving readers clearly defined spaces to add information to the offerings at a traditional news site is one of the keys to freeing up full-time staffers to Do Journalism instead of copy editing calendar submissions, among other timesinks.
- John Ndege of ScribbleSheet offers up three tips for news organizations. My favorite is #3: Behave like a technology company.
- Jack Lail, online content boss at the Knoxville News-Sentinel, reports on the answers to the above question from three colleagues at Scripps, including the editor of a paper in Anderson, S.C., which has dropped a daily Lifestyles section and flattened its newsroom structure a bit, with all reporters essentially on a general assignment beat for a geographic area.
- Will Sullivan, Journerdist and Interactive Director at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, lets fly a long missive with details on how your news organization can get organized to save time and money. Details include: Use Web-based collaboration tools to track projects and progress, cut way down on meetings, and streamline middle-management.
- Jay Rosen, NYU J-School professor and PressThinker, notes in the comments here that my question is aimed at getting newsrooms to cut a task instead of getting the people formerly known as the audience to perform one of those tasks. I definitely see these as complementary angles. For example, there’s absolutely no reason why a staffer should be proofing and formatting calendar submissions e-mailed in by readers. They should be submitting their own items in a Web-based tool that puts out an XML feed to reverse-publish into print.
- Andy Dickinson, a UK J-prof and longtime newspaper video thinker, says getting over “the ownership thing” can free up intellectual cycles for innovation. His advice: “Give everyone in the newsroom playtime” a la Google. Agreed!
- John Hassell of the Newark Star-Ledger reframes the question, pointing out that innovative ideas can come straight from staffers intent on changing their own workflow. Conveniently enough, John has several great examples handy from the Star-Ledger, including Morristown Green, a hyperlocal play that appears to be drawing in local readers, comments, and even video from the community — if I remember correctly, John was heading up an effort to hand out Flip video cameras to locals with a little training.
- Bryan Murley of the Center for Innovation in College Media passes the question back to student media advisers, wondering what – if anything – can be cut out of a news organization’s workflow in a learning environment.
- Adam Tinworth, blogger-in-chief at Reed Business Information, offers up some straight talk: “If your business is predicated on breaking news on paper, give it up now. That’s a doomed effort. It ain’t going to work.” Long-term, he’s right. So how much of your news staff’s time is spent slogging through a list of daily tasks that assume a once-a-day print publishing cycle is going to be around for long?
- Doug Fisher, J-School profblogger, digests the question and comes up with a practical method for cutting down on double work in the newsroom: Write your budget lines like you mean it. I think this can kill a few birds with one stone in larger newsrooms, saving reporters brief-writing time (or budget line writing time, depending on your order of operations) while getting news out quickly.
Rob Curley moderated a panel at the conference I was at last week, and he said that he tries to only work on projects that “move the needle.” So what are you spending your time on today that isn’t moving the needle?
28 thoughts on “May Carnival of Journalism”
Not sure if it’s only a matter of stopping something. Newspapers in particular could stop having employees enter information (listings, recipes, government or public transactions, blotter items) directly into publishing systems like CCI and instead have them enter the information into a database via a Web form (reverse publishing into CCI/whatever is always possible). That would maintain a flow of information that most papers rely on but also provide reporters, editors and producers with the ability to use that information in whatever manner best fits.
So I guess it could be a “stop doing this”: stop using your publishing system as a data dump.
I think the meeting stories are ones people want — like what has my alderman done for me lately. I agree totally about AP stories.
I agree with you, but as I say in the post Ryan references, i just don’t think we need to do it.
I have some active community members I’ve come to trust already attending these meetings and I plan to let them do that for me whenever it’s reasonable to do so. Meanwhile, I can invest more time in ‘value-added’ what does it all mean, how’d we get here and where are we going stories.
I think the disconnect on meeting stories is that meetings are not the story. Sometimes there’s a story there, but plenty of times not. But a meeting happening isn’t a story.
At my last paper, we went to press around 10:30 p.m., so most meetings worth going to weren’t nearly over in time for the next day’s paper. That was a blessing in disguise, because it meant I did another day of reporting and wrote an issue story, rather than a non-event story.
For the play-by-play, as Matt noted, there were always plenty of people in the audience keeping tabs, video-taping the whole thing, plus there’s the meeting minutes, which ought to be online somewhere in a searchable and browsable format.
[…] It’s a simple question: What should news organizations stop doing, today, immediately, to make more time for innovation? […]
I just left the following comment on Pat’s blog in response to his post. He’s exactly right and here’s how I think organization can further innovate, specifically in the reporting process:
“[B]y posting updates to a blog or Twitter while working on a story, you can receive feedback regarding who to talk with, other angles to pursue and details that might have been missing. That’s not to say the journalist would do a bad job of reporting in the first place, just that the reporting process can be greatly improved before the ‘final’ version.”
I would stop the practice of spending so much time talking only to other journalists or supposed “experts” (basically drinking your own bathwater or augmenting the echo chamber) and spend most of your time talking to regular people in the community you’re serving. That can happen online, offline, in a bar, on the street. Social media products also naturally lead to these types of serendipitous interactions.
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For Derek, primarily:
Derek said newspapers should stop using systems like CCI to enter information and instead use a web form to enter info. into a database.
That, Derek, essentially is very similar to NewsGate, the latest incarnation of CCI. We’re working on making it work for us in Charlotte.
Yes, we’re still doing the data dump in most cases at the moment, but we’re moving ahead with integrating tools for the newsroom — and the public — to enter information and feed the web first and then the print paper.
So I guess here’s my spin on Derek’s idea on “stop doing this”: stop thinking of the main newsroom software as a print-only vehicle that gets information put in without any information going out. Then choose whichever software is right for a particular job. Do find people like Derek to help with hooks/translations/patterns to make software like CCI and Zvents and others work together.
Who do you not hire so you can hire the coders? That’s when the questions get tough.
For the record, I wasn’t saying that newspapers should stop using systems like CCI entirely. Sure, it would be a nice long-term goal, but hardly a realistic option immediately. Instead, they should not use CCI as the default front-end for *everything* and use a Web front-end to a database where appropriate.
I’m not talking about web-first or print-first. I’m talking about the most useful first.
Sounds good. I probably sounded a bit defensive about CCI. Rollout does that to people.
If you develop a good web form for recipes that can then export the data into CCI or other print apps. with no added cost, I’m betting someone would use it. Or even pay for it.
@Andria (apologies for the spelling error before):
WPNI already does this with its recipes database; Dan Berko developed the Django app to do it.
So revising my answer (again) to Ryan’s initial question of what we should stop doing:
Stop trying to re-code the wheel at every newspaper. Start learning and sharing more with colleagues.
I know many folks at other papers who have already done that for Charlotte. May we continue the karma.
You’re thinking of editorial time (staff time) as fixed, or declining. I know it seems that way. But if the pro-am premise proves out, maybe it isn’t entirely fixed. The users, if brought intelligently into the equation, leverage staff time.
Look at this example as illustrative. The users (readers) drill the dry holes and occasionally there’s a payoff.
So rather than thinking about what to give up–sorry, in addition to thinking about what to give up–think about how to increase editorial time via the pro-am route. Cheers, everyone, and keep at it….
Good point. Tons of resources and databases like those at Sunlight Foundation are available for “ams” to help analyze.
But from a smaller, more local and regional paper point of view, Ryan’s question is spot on. Many of those papers have already turned to the “ams” to fill much of their space. There’s a law of diminishing returns — or diminishing quality — in increasing the use of “ams,” as anyone who has worked much with freelancers outside of NYC can verify.
The pool is getting larger and will increase as journalists “retire.” But those retirees will still have to get paid enough to eat — by someone. Or be motivated in some other way. See a quote by Jan Schaffer from the J-Lab here: http://snurl.com/2ajot
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Carnival of Journalism: The Reporting Instinct…
An insanely busy weekend means I’ve probably missed the boat on this month’s Carnival of Journalism, but I thought I’d get my post written anyway. Host Ryan Sholin asked us a question, based on an event he attended: What should……
News organizations should stop pretending like it’s the pre-Internet days. Most news organizations are still legacy-first. Newspapers still care more about the print edition than the Web edition. Beats are still centered around making content for print edition.
The same goes for broadcast. Even the best news organizations often have separate Web staffs that produce editorial content for the Web product. But that makes no sense.
Why have two staffs to produce editorial content, when most employees could be creating content that works on multiple platforms? That’s what I mean by rethinking staff resources.
It’s simply a matter of making employees and content work for us. Duplication of work is a great way to stifle innovation, because most news organizations are under a tremendous budget crunch and can’t afford to waste resources like that.
[…] May Carnival of Journalism » Invisible Inkling “What should news organisations stop doing, today, immediately, to make more time for innovation?” (tags: journalism innovation) […]
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[…] under those circumstances the question (set by Ryan Sholin the master of ceremonies at this month’s Carnival of Journalism) is “What are we […]
[…] May, as part of the Carnival of Journalism, Ryan Sholin asked: What should news organizations stop doing, today, immediately, to make more time for […]