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Friday, September 12, 2008

'Content is no longer king; Context is'

Food for thought from BusinessWeek, a US publication experimenting with involving readers in magazine issues from conception through publication and subsequent debate. Thanks to Nat Torkington for the link.

"[The idea] is to reinvent journalism as a process that involves the reader in the front end, to advocate story ideas; in the middle, to inform the reporting of a story; and in the end, to expand on the conversation a story creates. That latter conversation is not a letter-to-the-editor monologue, but rather a dialogue between the professional writers and the audience."
In a post that I found well worth the read, executive editor John A Byrne expands on the background and concept:

"In the early 1960s, Tom Wolfe and other talented writers created the New Journalism. It cleverly deployed the techniques of great fiction to news and feature writing. Today's direct engagement with readers is the antithesis of Mr. Wolfe's self-centered narrative inventions. Call it the "New" New Journalism.

"It fully embraces its readers, treats their opinions and beliefs with respect and dignity, and leverages the intelligence of the crowd to create a more valuable outcome for all. It recognizes that content is no longer king; Context is. In a world of commoditization, where too much news and opinion already chases too few eyeballs, this new loyalty-inducing journalism builds community and relationships."

BusinessWeek published a user-generated issue, called Trouble at the Office, which posed considerable challenges including...

  • The "New" New Journalism takes work, a lot more work than traditional writing and editing.
  • Soliciting participation was hard; vetting and structuring it was even harder.
  • It was tough to get the flow going. Readers are busy people doing other things – that is, things other than reporting, thinking deeply about a narrow subject, and writing cogently about it.
  • We should have started earlier and seeded discussions with our own provocative essays, podcasts, and videos to give people an idea of what we were looking for.
  • A reader's ability to offer a smart, impassioned response to a problem... rarely translates into an ability to write a long-form piece.
  • We had too many editors wanting to rewrite the voice out of the contributions. It's more important to preserve the readers' voice and the passion.
  • Participatory journalism works best for subjects on which readers have authority. The workplace was a fertile area ... asking our readers to write on how to fix the subprime mess might not add much.

Byrne's closing comments, however, focus more squarely on the upside of building reader communities around news sites:

"We've learned that they are passionate, willing to share valuable thoughts and insights, generous with their effort and time. What's more, engaging users in the reinvention of our craft has led to the discovery that our readers are exactly like us: They share a common goal to improve life, not merely bringing issues and situations to light, but sharing and working toward common solutions. That is the true essence of community."

Hear hear.

I'm not aware of experiments like this in New Zealand, on mainstream news sites at any rate. Have you seen any?

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