Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Google didn't change everything

It’s easy to think the shift from a newspaper culture to a “news organization culture” in the Google world is essentially binary. Newspapers used to be this. Now they should be that, the opposite of what they once were.

While that way of thinking is provocative and contains some truth, it’s important not to fall into the trap that nothing journalists did before the Internet applies today.

Take two examples from an excellent blog post by Amber Smith that I found reading Jeff Jarvis’ Buzz Machine blog.

Here’s the first:

Old way of thinking
Editors were in charge, choosing which stories to provide to the readers/audience, based on what the editors thought the readers/audience wanted and needed to know.

New way
Readers are in charge. They read what they want, when they want.

Is it really that simple? I don’t think so. First, let’s drop the word “editors” and just say “journalists.” In this new world, everybody is – or can be – a content creator. I think they should be. But won’t journalists still decide what stories to do? I think they will. That’s how they build a brand, a reason for readers to turn to them. And up till now they didn’t just choose which stories to provide based on what they thought readers wanted or needed to know. They did so based on what they thought were interesting stories that would matter to people (and of course themselves). That quirky and individual sense of what’s worth reporting, writing and photographing remains critical in this new era. My believe is that the Web gives journalists even greater ability to do what they care about. Then they can see whether the readers will come.

Here’s the second example:

Old way of thinking
Editors decided which beats would be covered.


New way

“Beats” are based on niche communities that already exist.

Really? I think a good journalist with an original eye can create interest where little or none existed. I totally agree that we need to tap into niche communities that already exist. But in our tradition the individual journalist can change how we see the world – and that’s something worth celebrating and encouraging.

This isn’t to say I don’t find much of value in Smith’s blog. But let’s be careful not to pretend that the Web has made the new formula simple. The world is still a place of shades of gray, as much as we might wish it could be black and white, right and wrong.

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