Skills for journalists in print and digital media.

Skills for local news sites

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Paul Bradshaw of the Online Journalism Blog responded to questions posed in advance of an appearance at an upcoming Association of Online Publishers meeting. Among the questions and Bradshaw’s answers:

Q. How can publishers compete with zero-cost base community developed and run sites?

They can’t – and they shouldn’t. When it comes to the web, the value lies in the network, not in the content. Look at the biggest web success story: Google. Google’s value – contrary to the opinion of AP or Rupert Murdoch or the PCC – is not in its content. It is in its connections; its links; its network. You don’t go to Google to read; you go there to find. The same is true of so many things on the internet. One of the problems for publishers is that people use the web as a communications channel first, as a tool second, and as a destination after that. The successful operations understand the other two uses and work on those by forging partnerships, and linking, linking, linking. So publishers should be working with those community sites for long-term mutual benefit – and I emphasise ‘mutual’: publication in your print edition ‘Photos of the Week’ does not really constitute a long-term strategy here.

Which got me thinking more about Pierre Omidyar’s plans to start a local news site in Honolulu and the skills that would be required to make it work. Omidyar wants a site that will “produce original, in-depth reporting and analysis of local issues in Hawaii.” Further, the man who founded eBay notes:

“If you’ve been following my tweets you may know that I’ve been interested in journalism for quite a while. In 2008, Randy Ching and I co-founded Peer News Inc. with the goal of empowering citizens and encouraging greater civic participation through media. We believe that a strong democracy requires an engaged society supported by effective news reporting and analysis. And, we believe that this can be done in a profitable, sustainable way.”

Bradshaw contends success is all about links, not so much content. Based on what Omidyar  says above, he wants to produce content worth linking to.

As Omidyar assembles a staff for the as yet unnamed news operation, what are the skills and competencies that should be taken into account to produce quality content?

A few suggestions:

Critical thinking skills: Reporting, writing, editing the news is about choices and insight. Critical thinking skills range from the simple ability to group information to more complex analysis, comparison, and logic. All the technical skills in the world will not shore up poorly framed or misunderstood information. The ability to “prosecute” information like a trial attorney, or piece together bits and pieces to form a coherent whole, are the ways skilled reporters and editors tell stories and empower people. And these skills can be quantified and taught.

Story forms: Classic forms are to stories what good templates can be to web design. Beyond the inverted pyramid there are many story forms that quickly help frame information, aid in the editing of ideas and copy, and allow readers easy access to information and its impact on them. Many of these forms translate well to digital media.

Define good: A critical part of managing change is the ability to quickly spot, quantify, and consolidate success — to define good even as standards are evolving. This applies to all aspects of a news operation, from content to workflow to operational systems. The criteria for successful outcomes informs all layers of the organization and provides critical measures against which performance and resources can be assessed.

Civic life: This is a mix of good beat work, strategic beat mapping, and a more methodical understanding of the sociology of community. Examples of good methodology include the Pew Center’s Tapping Civic Life and the Covering Communities project at Kansas University.

Word craft: Writing clearly and concisely is an acquired skill set, comprised of many smaller skills and approaches. Credibility, readablity, and even to a degree search engine optimization, are all a function of clear, accurate writing.


Written by mroberts8

November 30, 2009 at 11:15 pm

Posted in Newstraining, Training

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