It’s About the Conversation, Not the Technology

Ug…The blog hasn’t been as active this summer because as I previously noted, I’ve been busy with just a few things! Hope to gear it up again soon.

Newspapers are finally beginning to truly embrace change. They are creating structures and processes that allow them to break news online all day (here is one example of this at my hometown newspaper, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; many other papers have taken a similar approach) and encouraging more staffers to develop multimedia skills.

Interestingly, however, I think that newspapers are still caught up in seeing the Web more as a technological innovation rather than a community innovation. In newsrooms, the Internet is seen primarily as a tool that can do neat/pretty things or can provide the news to readers instantly and on demand. Seeing it as a truly social medium that involves building a new relationship with readers is something that seems to be coming along more slowly, and more in lip service than in practice. Comments go unresponded to, if they are allowed at all. Special communities of expertise or interest are untapped. Email databases of possible sources for future stories are unmade.

I can understand why. Our culture is full of metaphors that equate computers with geeks and gadgets, it’s easy to get carried away with the whiz bang coolness of new technology. Heck, even I, a relative Luddite, have an iPhone.

But, as some of my smartest friends who study media audiences are learning through research, it’s the community part that may matter more to a viable future. The technology will keep changing, but fundamental human needs change much less quickly. The most fundamental innovation the Internet has driven is making news more of a conversation.

Obviously, I’m far from the first to say this, and indeed the journalism blogosphere is full of what I might call smug exhortations to newspapers to get with the program on this one. But I think it’s worth emphasizing this point anyway. Newspapers in particular are really missing an opportunity to make the Web work more to their strengths, which at some fundamental level have always been knowing the community and cultivating strong relationships with sources. And research shows that organizations that develop upon existing strengths when trying to adapt to environmental change do better than those that try to build whole new capacities.


1 Comment

Filed under Real Live Changing Newsrooms

One response to “It’s About the Conversation, Not the Technology

  1. Doreen Marchionni

    Well-put, my friend. It’s funny you’re talking about this because I’ve been wondering the same lately– about the push in newsrooms to hire videographers, Web-site creators, etc. Good sign, but it feels a bit like they’re hiring for technical know-how, not necessarily for the underlying principle that girds it: citizen participation and interaction with journalists.

    And that interaction, or conversation, is the fundamental difference between print and online. Years ago, I viewed the online platform as little more than a technical difference in news delivery. Now that I’ve researched conversation and online audiences to the point of obsession at MU, I finally get that the delivery system is simply a means to an end: interpersonal exchanges, collaboration, socializing.

    Thank god that IS what it’s about. It reminds me of the old-fashioned gumshoe reporting and schmoozing we mastered as reporters, and the unadulterated joy of talking to real people for real stories. Same thing online just exponentially wider and faster and more efficient.

    Here’s to more connections and conversations with the people who matter most to journalists: the audience.


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