Meanwhile, Down at the Reporting Factory …

By mclennan

Some Opportunities

Journalists work hard to make government, sports, business, and other large organizations transparent. As blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and other social networking tools have emerged, they have provided both an opportunity for journalists to make our own work more transparent and to be a tool a for  communities to interact with us.

  • Feedback ahead of time Journalists can run our questions for interview subjects ahead of time before an interested audience, making us ask sharper questions and getting feedback from the communities we serve about what they’d like to know. This can make journalists more – not less – efficient because our questions are smarter and more organized, and we can address problems or find new sources before we finish writing the story.
  • Breaking news credibility Journalists can provide credible first-hand reporting from breaking news or sports events when we use Twitter, live-blogging tools like CoverItLive, and Instagram so that people in our readership can see the scene. Newspapers are no longer the first draft of history – instead, the social networks serve that purpose, and not to incidentally, provide reporters themselves with first drafts so that writing copy after the fact becomes faster and more efficient.
  • Community participation and interest Journalists can raise interest in our product by letting readers peer into the process of creating the article, video, data visualization, or audio piece. And while not all readers or commenters have the kind of feedback we like to hear, we can gain knowledge and ideas from many of them while sparking a level of emotional investment and connection in what we’re doing.

Transparency and Engine30

I envisioned E30 as the kind of newsroom that strives for a clear window, using Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Instagram (and occasionally Facebook) to record what we were doing with the Getty Fellowship in Los Angeles. I figured we would live-stream our editorial meetings, or at least live-tweet them, thus garnering interest in our work from arts journalists, artists, arts educators, Los Angeles arts fans, and others who weren’t in the room with us but who had some interest in the topics we were covering.

Why it’s Difficult

Journalists who aren’t already using social media to promote transparency in their organizations or their own reporting may not find it easy to come to a new town with new colleagues in a new (and untested) project. To then be tasked with documenting the entire process? That’s quite a large request.

Many reporters see the finished product as the performance – a one-time only production, complete when it’s finished and as perfect as possible before it goes out.

Transparency, on the other hand, partly serves to make the messy process of news reporting and writing as open as possible – to show that reporters and editors are human, to show the ways we find out about information and argue about what’s important, and to give room to those we’re covering to take part in their own coverage.

That openness can feel not just surprising but also threatening for journalists more used to a traditional experience of working and writing alone. Indeed, transparency in a newsroom threatens the traditional role journalists have enjoyed (and lamented) as continual outsiders in the communities we’re covering.

Using Instagram or Twitter occasionally or for a news organization is not the same as seeing your words from an editorial meeting on someone else’s Twitter feed with your name tagged, or seeing your face during a discussion pop up on a Tumblr page with your name attached.

So, during Engine30, the transparency and openness project foundered a bit on the shoals of journalistic tradition and a desire to make sure the product was polished before letting it into the wilds of the internet. Still, plenty of documentation exists on Pinterest , Twitter, and Instagram – and through all of those sites on the Engine30 Tumblr . That’s not as fully archived as I’d like our experiences to be, nor as public, but it’s a start – and one to build from the next time arts journalists meet as a group to embark on an experiment in creating stories for the 21st century.

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