New rules for news

Via Chairman Bruce, here’s a list of 22 rules for the New New Journalism from Dan Gillmor at The Guardian. As Bruce points out, there more than a hint of the idealist networked society about them, but they’re still worth reading – think of it more as a manifesto for a society where journalism was actually meant to keep people informed rather than confused.

Here’s a few of my favourites:

2. We would invite our audience to participate in the journalism process, in a variety of ways that included crowdsourcing, audience blogging, wikis and many other techniques. We’d make it clear that we’re not looking for free labour – and will work to create a system that rewards contributors beyond a pat on the back – but want above all to promote a multi-directional flow of news and information in which the audience plays a vital role.

Nothing too new there, but the promise to acknowledge the origin of crowdsourced material is good.

7. We would replace PR-speak and certain Orwellian words and expressions with more neutral, precise language. If someone we interview misused language, we would paraphrase instead of using direct quotations. (Examples, among many others: The activity that takes place in casinos is gambling, not gaming. There is no death tax, there can be inheritance or estate tax. Piracy does not describe what people do when they post digital music on file-sharing networks.)

Translation: “we’ll not advance or defend the political and economic interests of businesses with obfuscation”.

14. The word “must” – as in “The president must do this or that” – would be banned from editorials or other commentary from our own journalists, and we’d strongly discourage it from contributors. It is a hollow verb and only emphasizes powerlessness. If we wanted someone to do something, we’d try persuasion instead, explaining why it’s a good idea and what the consequences will be if the advice is ignored.

Translation: “we’ll encourage people to think for themselves rather than spoon-feed them other people’s agendas”. Probably the bravest item on the list, and – sadly – the one that will lay any venue that adopts it open to being slaughtered by its competition. In a den of liars, honesty is suicide; these rules would be a great manifesto if you were founding a new civilisation on a distant planet, but trying to push them onto the existing media  infrastructure is probably an exercise in futility.

I suspect that if the character of media is going to change, it will do so because the bulk of those of us who consume it start making it as well… and even if that happens, there’s no guarantee that everyone’s going to share the same ideas about how it should be done.

If you could impose one new rule on journalism, what would it be?

3 thoughts on “New rules for news”

  1. 6. We would refuse to do stenography and call it journalism. If one faction or party to a dispute is lying, we would say so, with the accompanying evidence. If we learned that a significant number of people in our community believed a lie about an important person or issue, we would make it part of an ongoing mission to help them understand the truth.

    This, I think, is probably the biggest failing of online journalism as it stands today. Far too many people will believe their one source of information and not even bother looking for corroborating sources. Compound that fact upon the echo chamber effect between news organizations, and it becomes far too easy for some misleading falsehood to spread to the public consciousness.

  2. Whenever a mistake was found and a correction had to be issued, the correction would be required to be of the same profile or higher as the original story. Make a mistake on your page A2 story, you have to run the correction on page A1; no more burying your corrections in 8-point type at the bottom of page A29. If you make a mistake in your primary headline story the correction has to be the next day’s primary headline story, no matter what else is happening.

    And online errors must be left in place along with their correction — no conveniently vanishing-down-the-Internet-empty-cache memory hole mistakes.

    Without exception, the bloggers and blogs I respect most and take most seriously are the ones who admit to their errors and leave them in place as part of the record.

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