Thursday, November 13, 2008

Reporters in a Digital Age

When I got into reporting, all you needed was a pen, a notepad and your curiosity. These days, it's a little more complicated as newspapers try and capture the readers who have migrated to the Internet to get their news. Since leaving the traditional print industry and joining an Internet start-up that produces niche online content, I've had a number of conversations with newspaper editors about what a reporter should be able to do in this new digital landscape.

If I were back in a traditional newsroom, here's what I would consider if I were recreating a reporter's beat. Because every newspaper has one, let's assume the position is a city government beat -- although you can use this framework for any beat from sports to features and get the same result. And for the sake of clarity, let me say, yes, you'll still need to understand the journalism basics -- like how to use a pen and notepad and ask questions that folks sometimes don't want to answer.

But as more people commit citizen journalism, traditionally trained journalists need to become aggregators of content as well as creators of it. Really, each reporter becomes a community editor of sorts. And in the end, they will be more connected to what's happening in the areas they cover -- never a bad thing for a good journalist.

1. Video, audio and more. Just like a pen and notepad was once the basic foundation of a good reporter, knowing how to produce video, audio and photo galleries are now part of the job. Web readers love all of this. And there are lots of folks in your community who are creating it -- so you don't have to rely on only your own work. Use their work as well as your own to share what's happening in the neighborhood you're covering.

2. Set up a social network for your community. Get on facebook, twitter, linkedin and other social networks on the web. Find out who is from your area and hook up to them. Read what they say when they say it. And cull from those networks story ideas, links and other information that may be of interest to the people in your community. This is, in my mind, just another way to develop your network of sources -- possibly with some new voices you might never have had before. All of this can be used when you get to my next point.

3. Start a community blog. Make it accurate. Make it grammatically correct. And make it quick. Use the social network to write about the topics of concern in your community as they happen. You don't have to generate the information. You just have to find it, give it an introduction and link to it. And remember, whatever you write doesn't have to be long and drawn out. Twitter does this in 140 words. You can make yours longer, but they don't have to be.

4. Be a community builder. Your job is to find the folks who care enough to blog about what's going on in their world, cull the best pieces and share them on your blog so others will know about what's happening. You may even link people in your community, simply by finding topics they have in common.

5. Build your own content partnerships. What do I mean? In the Internet world, you connect with others who cover the same topic you do. They produce content, which you can write about and link to. They can link to your work as well, and through that, you build on your own little traffic network. Imagine all the agencies you cover in your community. Imagine their work on your community blog. OK, yes, you should let folks know where the information came from, so they can use their common sense about the bias, if there is one, in the story you are linking to. In exchange, you get more content.

6. Encourage participation. The more you engage in your community, the more they will engage with you. From focus groups to niche web sites, newsrooms have seen that happen time after time. Yes, some of these folks you'll only know online. But so what? It doesn't matter how the conversation is happening, as long as it is. And you can be proud of yourself for helping to build it.

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