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.

  • 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....

  • Michael Becker

    I apol­o­gize for the slip of the fin­gers. It’s been cor­rected in the post. Thanks for stop­ping by!