Chris is a former sports writer at the Berkshire Eagle, one of our Project Unbolt pilot newsrooms. He won a DFMie last year for sports writing, then took a job as sports editor at the Mountain Press in Sevier County, Tenn.
Here’s what Chris said in his email (which I’m using here with his permission):
I haven’t had the time to read all your unbolt posts, but they touch on a lot of themes I’m trying to emphasize here as well. So forgive me if you’ve spelled this out, but it seems to be the obvious, perhaps unsaid idea here is that the newspaper (or Tout or video or photograph or social networks) aren’t the products. They’re delivery services for the product which is good storytelling, journalism, etc.
I know whenever I sat in on a conference call at DFM, I felt like the language “New product lines” (i.e. Tout initiative, social media wire, etc) was the wrong terminology. The product is still the news being delivered via those avenues.
If you look at it that way, I think it answers a lot of questions (Do we still edit as vigorously?). We’re still seeking the same journalism excellence, just delivering it in a new way.
I believe my mission statement as a journalist does not change even while the workflow becomes unrecognizable compared to 5 or 10 years ago.
Terminology is important and I used to make a similar point in closing my Newspaper Next presentations about disruption in the newspaper industry (similar to the closing of my 2012 “Embrace discomfort” address and post).
As Chris said, we are still seeking journalism excellence. Good storytelling remains the heart of what we do. I think every journalist should take heart in that fact and focus on telling good stories. If journalism excellence or good storytelling can provide a Northern Star to help you navigate in confusing times, I encourage that.
I also caution, though, against using that reassurance to downplay the importance of change or of the delivery system and workflow.
We have new storytelling tools and techniques and if we want to continue pursuing excellence, we need to learn those tools and techniques.
Audience has always mattered in journalism and our audience is increasingly on digital platforms. We have to change how we work if we want to remain excellent. Too many journalists and news organizations still essentially post a print story online, and post their stories on print deadlines (after the day’s digital traffic is tapering off).
From a consumer’s standpoint, a delivery system is part of a product. We may be delivering great journalism, but if some of it doesn’t play on a mobile app or an m-dot website, that product sucks to a smartphone user. And if that story was delivered to the digital audience at the right time for consumers of the morning newspaper, it was late for that product.
So I agree with Chris that our core product — news about your community — doesn’t change. But the changes in workflow and delivery are profound and we can’t achieve journalism excellence without making and mastering those changes.