Listen and talk, but listen more

Jason Fry at Reinventing the Newsroom uses a strained metaphor to suggest a good idea: that news organizations start listening as much as they are talking.

Yes, most news sites and blogs allow commenting these days, and many journalists are using sites and services that let them deliver the news immediately, which is when readers seem to want it.

But Fry says that even though the technology and its adoption has grown, journalists are still doing the same old thing, getting news out to readers. “We have to see that our old mission is now part of something larger, figure out how to expand that mission to reflect this change, and change our culture so that we can meet its challenges and unlock its possibilities,” Fry writes. “But at the risk of sounding touchy-feely, it’s clear that it begins with less talking and more listening.”

Social media is the key, he says. It can’t be all about the news organization and its message, and we can’t force readers to make our news sites the home for the conversations. “To see the news organization’s site not as a starting point for building a community, but as a potential part of a vibrant community that already exists,” Fry says.

The problem I see is that I have known too many journalists who see their jobs as just getting their stories out on time. It’s not Journalism for them; it’s a job. That’s OK, of course, but it’s a mentality that doesn’t leave a lot of time for engaging with their readership and building an online community.

I think what I’ve seen is a common problem, but things are changing gradually — in some cases drastically. I do happen to like what the BBC’s global news chief wrote to his staff:

“This isn’t just a kind of fad… I’m afraid you’re not doing your job if you can’t do those things. It’s not discretionary. … If you don’t like it, if you think that level of change or that different way of working isn’t right for me, then go and do something else, because it’s going to happen.”

Maybe that kind of bluntness flies in Britain. I don’t think it will work in Montana, but I suppose we haven’t tried yet. Critical mass can’t come soon enough for me.

Update: I found another post of interest on the same subject by Robert Quigley at Old Media New Tricks. He’s got some good explanations of why Twitter, Facebook and site comments can be useful, explanations that might even convince a hardened Luddite of a journalist.

Best paragraph is the last:

Before social media, good journalists listened to what their neighbors were saying, what people were saying at the coffee shop and what city officials were telling them. Think of social media as a way to extend your reach.

It just makes sense.

2 Comments on “Listen and talk, but listen more”

  1. Jason Fry

    Hi Michael, very much appreciate the link and the thoughtful response. I agree the metaphor was a little strained. But feel compelled to point out that it's Jason Fry. Stephen's the actor, James is the Oprah-bashed author (with an extra “e” in the last name). I'm just me….