A changing culture deserves an evolving, responsive newsroom

This was originally written for the Columbia Missourian, where I’m the editor of a not-quite-named team focusing on the community.

There are a lot more ways we in the newsroom can listen to you than there used to be. And I think we have an obligation to do so.

We can listen to what you say in the comments on our website, and we can join in the conversation.

We can listen to what you’re saying online in general, on social networks (did you know Twitter will search by location?) and on local blogs, for example.

We can spend more time listening in person, attending events and hanging out around town not to cover anything specific, but just to hear what’s on your mind.

We can “listen,” in a way, to what kind of news you’re looking for by paying attention to our web analytics. We can know (collectively, not individually) things such as what you’re reading at what time of day, what you’re searching for and which stories you spend the most time with.

Along with all this information comes a duty to be responsive. If we’re really listening, we should be changing what we’re doing based on what we hear. We should pay attention to what you like, join in the conversations you’re having about the news and respond when you get in touch with us directly, whether you’re walking into the newsroom (which you’re welcome to do anytime — 221 S. Eighth St.) or commenting on our Facebook or Twitter pages.

If it’s easier for you to talk to us than it used to be, our routines need to adapt to allow for listening. Our journalism should be guided by your needs and preferences.

Here’s another big cultural change: It’s no longer enough to think that you’ll find a story if we put it in print and post it online. Even if the story is on a topic you care deeply about, your information consumption habits are likely so diverse that you can’t be sure the news you most want will make its way across your radar. Especially in a media-saturated town like Columbia, you can’t possibly consume all the news that’s reported.

So how can we make sure you find a story we do about your neighborhood, your school or your volunteer organization?

We now have a duty to reach out into the community, to share our journalism with people who are likely to appreciate it and invite them to interact with it. (I wrote a piece about this duty for a journalism magazine, in case you’d like to know more.)

I teach a class at the journalism school called Participatory Journalism in which we talk about the changing relationship between journalist and community. We look at ways to be more collaborative, more in touch and more responsive to our readers. Students in this class have for years focused on encouraging you to tell your own stories for MyMissourian.com.

This fall, those students will take a more active role in the Missourian newsroom. And after six years as the Missourian’s design editor and then a year doing a fellowship at the Reynolds Journalism Institute across the street, I’ll be taking on new duties as the editor for this team of students. Here are a few examples of what I think the team will do:

  • Work on the newsroom’s social media use by cultivating and joining online conversations about the news and the community and reporting back to the newsroom what you’re talking about. Communication tools like Twitter and Facebook are meant for listening, not just broadcasting.
  • Find ways to help you navigate the online media landscape — from blogs to Twitter lists to YouTube videos — that will help you learn about your community. We’d like to bring you highlights from not just our reports but other voices we think you’ll find interesting.
  • Work with reporters and editors to entice you to get you more involved in the process of doing journalism and to stay involved in your conversations after the news has been published.
  • Look for ways to invite you to share your own stories and share what you know. You’re all experts on your own experiences. We can’t get to every community meeting or event, but collectively, you can.
  • Experiment with ways to help our content appear more effectively in your life, when and where it’s most valuable. It’s not enough for us to publish a story and hope you find it.

Given what you’ve just heard me describe, does Community Outreach team sound like the right name for this newsroom group? That’s my first thought, but I’m taking nominations.

I invite you to do these things:

  • Let me know how the ideas I’ve written about here strike you, and whether Community Outreach team sounds like the right name. A name can shape who we are and who we appear to be, and I want one that will help decide our priorities.
  • Get in touch anytime with story ideas, feedback on coverage and suggestions for how what we do can be more relevant in your life.
  • Consider whether the things that are important to your daily life are covered well by the Missourian. And if not, think about whether you could help us out by filing reports from your community meetings, sports teams, churches, etc. We’d love to publish them.

I’ll be out of the office for a few days, but if you get in touch, I promise to get back to you when I return.

— Joy Mayer, editor of a not-quite-named, brand-new team

Twitter: @mayerjoy
Google+: http://gplus.to/mayerjoy


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