Thursday, November 09, 2006

New touchstones,
enduring mission


We all learned to produce newspapers according to a set of touchstones and metrics that were refined and polished over generations. Success meant a bigger staff, a larger newshole, longer series, more prizes. You staffed and covered everything; running wire on any story within striking range was failure.

Much of that is history.

Some things don’t change. Let’s take it as a given that our mission isn’t different. We’re here to produce the journalism of verification: fair, accurate independent reporting that speaks the truth to power, holds government accountable, gives voice to the voiceless, builds community cohesion. We create and empower citizens. If that’s not our animating purpose, I don’t want to keep doing it.

But standing by ourselves in an empty room telling stories won’t accomplish that.

How do we reorient? What are the new touchstones? Nobody knows for sure yet, of course, but I have some ideas. I wonder if you do, too?

The most important involves turning our yardstick upside down: what matters is not just what we do, but also what people do with it. The educator who argued “I was teaching, but they weren’t learning” had obviously missed the point. So, too, the editor who tries to argue that her decisions were right but the readers didn’t care.

I’d propose this as New Metric Number One: grow audience, in whatever channel and on whatever cycle the audience dictates. Chase them, find them, embrace them, serve them, capture them.

And how about this for Number Two: accept that news is an interactive, collaborative process these days. The audience is your partner in every significant respect, helping shape your decisions and contributing their own voices.

Along the way, we’ll learn the proper weight to attach to other touchstones: engagement; personality; excitement; non-generic ideas and assignments; humor, whimsy, buzz; star quality, brand-name performers; multiple channels and tools.

We will learn how to attach even more value to the tremendous capacities we already have: potent, narrative storytelling; tough-minded independence; levelheaded judgment; non-partisan detachment; fearless, agnostic investigations; deep community roots and understanding.

Any ideas about what else to include in amongst the new touchstones? You could add them as comments here.
–Howard Weaver

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  4. Re: Touchstones, here's another: Risk-taking that accepts frequent failure as part of our lives. Along with that, a willingness (OK, ruthlessness) to pull the plug quickly when new initiatives bomb.

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  5. Howard, this is part of Number One, I suppose, but we're having to switch to being both a PM and AM paper at the same time, updating 24/7 online. Actually, perhaps it's more like radio — always on the air.

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