Archive for November, 2008

Leaders — Political and Editorial — Need to Work the Network

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

The News & Observer in Raleigh today picked up an op-ed I wrote about the need for winning political candidates to follow through on their gestures of online community connectivity. (Hat tip to WCHL for the idea…)

But this challenge isn’t unique to political leaders, it’s also one that journalists must meet and a gesture on which they are following through even less.

Hooked on the promise of the free advertising inventory generated by online comments, more and more newspaper Web sites are deploying  some type of online discussion technology.  What they aren’t deploying is the kind of human  resources that are needed to foster and develop online conversations. Why do most comments on news articles follow Godwin’s Law? Because there is little or no authentic conversational leaders. There is no human being making connections between people and ideas and, um, fact.

Just look at this recent survey of online journalists in North Carolina — online community management ranked as the skill that these editorial staffers said was least important to their jobs.

Here are my quick thoughts on how news organizations should begin to approach online comments.

N.C. Rising Dropout Rate: A Call for Media Partners

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

Next semester, I’m leading a group of students in a service-learning class at UNC-Chapel Hill that be using online reporting and publishing techniques to dig in to the story of North Carolina’s rising high school dropout rate. As part of this experiment, we’re working with news outlets in the state on a collaboration that will live both on their individual sites and on a centralized site at UNC. If you’re interested in participating, please take a look at our draft plan of attack here .

Len Downie’s Rules for Good Journalism

Friday, November 14th, 2008

The former executive editor of The Washington Post laid them out recently in a speech at Harvard:

1. All journalists should accurately identify themselves.

2. Conflicts of interest should also be disclosed, if not avoided altogether.

3. News and opinion should be clearly differentiated.

4. Photography and video should not be doctored or misleadingly used, unless it is obvious it has been altered only to entertain or express opinion.

5. Journalism should serve the public interest rather than the personal whim of bloggers or special interests of any kind.

Finally, he says, “Too much concentration on the philosophical questions about journalism in the digital world runs the risk of ignoring the most important question before us. Who will pay for the news?”

Those seem pretty straightforward and not too onerous. I have a quibble with his third and fifth points because I’m not sure these can be accomplished in a way that convinces and builds trust with the audience, even when done by the most well-intentioned journalists. Some people know the difference between opinion and fact, and for them labels are meaningless. Other people don’t know the difference between opinion and fact even when it’s labeled, and for them labels are also meaningless. “The public interest” I think is also a bit elusive and is phrase that has been so widely used by policy advocates on all sides that I’m not sure it has much ability to build or sustain credibility. Instead, I’d replace those two points with one — that journalism should be “evidence-based” and respect the scientific method.