I made the shift to online journalism in May 2009. While I’ve made many crossovers in my 15 years in the industry (radio-TV, TV-newswires), this move to the online world marked the biggest change in both editorial mindset and daily workflow.
Many of my former colleagues have been asking me about the differences and how that’s changed my thinking about journalism. So let me start by pointing out what I think represents the biggest opportunity and challenge for journalism: the rise of the news shepherd.
I’m not suggesting for a moment here that the audience is a single, monolithic unit (it’s often fragmented). The shepherd analogy here represents the role of the journalist. He or she is no longer the anonymous “neutral” witness of history. In the online world, the journalist often rides on his personal brand, delivering and seeding news and conversations.
In the next two years, I’m convinced that job descriptions for journalists will include requirements such as:
– strong personal brand online, with at least 400 followers on Twitter, 500 friends on Facebook, 300 connections on LinkedIn
– ability to seed conversations and cultivate dialogue in online communities
– a strong eye for stories that can be further developed into strong conversations online
– ability to quickly and effectively moderate conversations
In short, journalists will be hired not only for their access to news makers and other sources, but also for their ability to rally and drive conversations in online communities.
This has been one of the biggest lessons for me in the last few months at Yahoo!, where I’ve been working with producers and community managers to seed and drive conversations. And I’m convinced this will be the biggest opportunity for online journalism that reaches beyond the latest technological fads. New platforms will wow and amaze, but ultimately, it still comes down to the audience and what you do for them.
One of the best things about “working” the community is that it will help deliver the context to stories that online journalism so badly needs. At Yahoo!, our Answers product is one of the best ways for us to do that — provide context. News is more than just what’s happening now; you need the community to develop context (that’s a subject for another blog post!).
There are of course two big challenges to this shift.
First, many newsrooms will resist the rise of “personal brand” journalism in which reporters are building their own personal communities. Reality check — TV stations have been using anchors as “personal brands” for years.
Second, newsroom managers will have to recognize that moderating and cultivating a community is a full-time job. Allocate your resources accordingly. Hire top notch social media editors to drive your strategy and empower them as your frontline consumer-facing messengers.
How many shepherds do you have in your news team?
[Photo: Russell Lee, Shepherd with his horse and dog on Gravelly Range, Madison County, Montana, 1942]