Friday, May 04, 2007
No more secrets. Get over it.
Like many things described as "radical," the notion of radical transparency is probably over-hyped, oversold and over-promised.
But it's not wrong.
I remember how proud I was to be a journalist yeas ago when I read in some former cabinet secretary's memoirs that he often made decisions by asking himself, "How will I feel when I read this on the front page of the Washington Post?" Yeah, that's it: hold them accountable.
Well, how many times in the last few years have you wondered, "How is this memo going to look when they post it on Romenseko?" I now know the names of alternative weeklies in most of the McClatchy cities, because that's where I find stories about the internal debates at your papers. Some lucky folks even have entire blogs devoted to critiquing them; see Tribal Fires in Anchorage, which this week says of me that I'm falling down on my job, "performing his usual function of explaining how this latest development is further proof of his boss's brilliance."
That's just the way it is, and that spirit of openness and access is only going to grow. As a profession based on the idea that people can't (and mainly shouldn't) keep secrets, journalists in particular need to get used to it. People get to call you names. Pissed off staffers get to leak your memos for the world to read. Competitors and disgruntled former employees get to start blogs and trash you.
But you also get to operate in a kind of healthy sunlight that can engender growth. For every cheapshot taken in a critical blog, there are a hundred opportunities for us to employ the same tools for richer, deeper conversation with readers. Stories that are blogged while they're being written – before actual "publication" – will inevitably be better for having been tested and refined. (The Star Tribune's "Big Question" feature is one interesting approach to this.)
The article about radical transparency in Wired is worth your time – not because everything it talks about is a technique you need to adopt right now, but because it accurately describes the landscape we're navigating, and offers important signposts to help guide us through it.
We need to keep thinking and talking about this.