As newsrooms become more innovative in engaging audiences, especially using new and emerging technologies, the result may be higher quality journalism, despite the predictions of doomsayers. E-journalism Professor Robert Washburn suggests the movement towards more transparency by journalists and newsrooms might lead to more competition and better journalism.

As newsrooms become more innovative in engaging audiences, especially using new and emerging technologies, the result may be higher quality journalism, despite the predictions of doomsayers. E-journalism Professor Robert Washburn suggests the movement towards more transparency by journalists and newsrooms might lead to more competition and better journalism.

 

Innovation aimed at opening up interactions between the public and newsrooms represent a vast new territory for journalists to explore. And, while the debate over the benefits and challenges of these new relationships are considered, one particular aspect jumped out the other day.

Internet technology has revolutionized journalism since the mid-1990s, first with web-based platforms through to social media today. It is now extending beyond just software to include new hardware—such as smart phones and tablets—which are presenting a constant barrage of opportunities.

The recent debate over the use of Twitter in courtrooms in Canada points to an encouraging trend toward careful reflection about new and emerging technologies. While excited reporters fired out tweets from the Russell Williams trial 18 months ago, a more sober, and definitely cautious, approach was taken by more recently surrounding the Tori Stafford trial. Through trial and error, and some debate, newsrooms are finding their way through the new landscape.

A recent visit by The Globe and Mail reporter Steve Ladurantaye to a class at Loyalist College brought up a very important point as the students discussed audience engagement as part of their e-journalism course. They are learning about the principles of educate, engage and empower as a new paradigm for the current news ecology. He shared the contrasting approach to his job as media reporter at The Globe with his previous practices many years ago.

He told students how he uses Twitter and Facebook to share the stories he works on prior to publishing. As he works through the story, he regularly posts about the topic, his research, his interviews and so forth. The audience  responds with suggestions, new angles and potential sources.

His individual efforts are being mirrored in newsrooms all over Canada and the world. The Open Journalism initiative by The Guardian is one of the most high-profile efforts by a news organization to become more transparent and engaging with its audience. It collaborates with readers to do research, provide story ideas and, believe it or not, live streams its news meetings for the audience to watch among a host of other opportunities.

There are far too many examples of similar efforts to list them all. But, there is no doubt that the trend towards interacting with audiences is a vital part of journalism as it is practiced now.

The days when journalists protected stories to stay competitive is under scrutiny. More and more, journalists are like Ladurantaye and a growing number of editors and publishers are taking the attitude of The Guardian—that is, they are making the process of journalism open to the public.

The pros and cons of such a move are not the subject here. However, what is truly striking is how this could affect the quality of journalism.

If journalists are openly sharing story ideas with each other, then one of the ways they can stay abreast of the competition is to provide a much better story than anyone else. The days when newsrooms could get away with wire services or shared copy may be coming to a close. Audiences can readily find a myriad of sources for news and information. A story that is repetitive or fails to provide unique information will soon find itself in trouble: Nobody wants to read the same story countless times. Yet, lazy journalists seem to think just because they are writing the coverage it makes it unique.

Some journalists are branding themselves in an effort to separate themselves from others. But, that may only work to a limited extent.

The true trick for journalists in this case is to provide the value-added materials that nobody else will have, whether it is sources, or research or images and so on.

This is magnified by the various new publishing venues, too. Where some stories maybe better published as tweets alone or in Storify or other new platforms, journalism will only stay relevant if it can give something else, something beyond basic coverage. Media guru Jeff Jarvis has made this point previously.

Journalists and newsrooms may not have a choice but to produce high quality journalism. New practices related to this and other trends may be forcing news organizations to raise standards rather than lower them, if they hope to be competitive. And, the alternatives may be few.