The Convergence Point

Because Story is independent of medium

Conversational Journalism: Dewey, Lippman and the twitterati

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From an unnamed artist,

“Dude threw on scuba gear, swam into a tsunami & saved his wife’s life.”

Wired magazine got it right.

Their tweet was unofficial, conversational and human. The reporter who wrote this feels like a real person, not a news-spewing robot.

I work with an editor who reminds me, almost daily, to write like I talk –  not in broken conversation, but not in official news-speak.  Board of Selectmen, becomes the selectmen, the Regional School District, becomes the high school, you know, terms people actually use.

When journalists step into the twitter world, they could learn something from the people already there. Stop broadcasting, and start talking.

Doreen Marchionni, editor at the Seattle Times, talked about this at the SXSW (South by Southwest) conference in Texas earlier this month. She said, according to an article on her talk by Poynter listening to the social media stream isn’t enough.

Journalists have to interact on it, and pitching story ideas to the community, or encouraging feedback on current articles are a few basic steps. By talking about more than just what they’ve written, reporters can take another step to becoming human online.

Salem News reporter Bethany Bray, check the paper’s homepage, does a good job of this. Yesterday her feed joked with Atomic Cafe, a Beverly coffee shop, on top of the news mainstay.

The twitter feed changed how we can do reporting. Before, we needed to be physically present in every public house. Now,  and we can engage readers on the internet like we would in the pub.  After all, isn’t that what journalism is supposed to do?
“The purpose of news is not to … inform but to signal, tell a story, and activate inquiry,” writes James Carey. He’s a journalist, communication theorist, and culture critic from the 70’s.

He’s arguing against what journalism, even now, presents itself as, a ‘quasi-governmental intelligence bureau.” The brainchild of Walter Lippman’s Public Opinion, he wanted a system of perfect information, that allowed people to make perfect decisions.

But that’s not the point of news. News deals with people, freedom, power, and emotion on top of statistical data.

Our focus, especially in the social media world, shouldn’t be to provide information, but to engage, and incite discussion. News, according to Lippman’s opponent, John Dewey, another theorist and critic, should give the public the tools they need to make their decisions through dialogue. An article should push the public to look deeper, not provide them with the perfect story.

A Dewey tweet would look like the one from Wired. short, simple, unofficial, and just as informative.


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