The Convergence Point

Because Story is independent of medium

Walls Down Fortress

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Why do we bother hiding behind walls when the gate’s no longer there?

When the Gatekeepers were cast into the pit of irrelevancy and uselessness, news organizations, ofter gatekeepers themselves, still ran their operations as if they had a gate. As if they could control what went out, when it did, and why it did. They maintained that quasi-authority, fourth estate kind of power, even as the fourth estate dissovled into the crowd.

It dissolved when anyone with a notepad, laptop, smartphone and camera could to the paper’s job faster, and more efficiently that it could.

We can’t work like we’re still a type of institutional power. We’re storytellers, and not meant to be “quasi-governmental.” It’s time to open up.

We need to stop our habit of “fortress” journalism before people stop listening. If we keep talking from behind our news-room podiums, we’ll be rendered into irrelevancy. We need to meet people where they are, in either the digital or the print reality. The St.Louis Beacon worked through a wall-breaking method with it’s story on race in St. Louis.

The Beacon’s method worked because the Beacon stopped acting like the Beacon, and started acting like a bard. A storyteller who listens and goes where people are. In this tipping point for journalism, we can’t keep working from our office. Especially if we do local work. We need to be open. Honest, and real with our readers.

Social media aid this, and we’ve talked before about Doreen Marchioni’s talk at SouthbySouthwest, where she mentioned that having an open, honest, and human online presence brings readers to a newspaper. If we keep our methods open, we remain credible, and keep ourselves from becoming detatched.

Transparency—which includes being open about mistakes—can kill rumors and conspiracy theories that breed distrust. It can soften criticism, or at least direct it to the appropriate targets. (Where the mistake was made.) It can enhance credibility, but only if consistently followed. That last is really the point. It’s a little counter-intuitive. But raising the window, fessing up, speaking directly to readers with a genuine openness actually enhances credibility. – Steven A. Smith, to Pressthink

The Colombia Journalism Review ran an article a year ago on the “open newsroom” model of doing business. They talked about the California Watch, an Investigative Reporting non-profit that sent its reporters out into coffee-shops with wi-fi access.

The Watch’s move hoped to kill the “All the president’s men” stereotypical newsroom.  An open newsroom places the reporter in the heart of the community. They’re in public doing work, where people can stop by and talk with them at a normal interval. It needs wi-fi, and time.

The “Open Newsroom” project, as they dubbed it, was “an opportunity for the public to stop by, share a cup of coffee, and maybe give us some story ideas,” says Mark Katches, California Watch’s editorial director. The experiment, he wrote in the project’s announcement, is “part of a goal to connect with readers and get out of the office. We’re hoping it will be a regular part of what we do.”

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Written by Steven A. Fletcher

May 9, 2011 at 12:12 am

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