The Next Big Thing in Journalism

By Byrne, John A | The Christian Science Monitor, September 8, 2008 | Go to article overview
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The Next Big Thing in Journalism


Byrne, John A, The Christian Science Monitor


Print media are reeling. The pace of financial losses and massive layoffs is accelerating. Panic is setting in.

It's easy to blame the Web for this bleak picture. But the same disruptive technology that has caused such dismay in print is also ushering in the most creative period in the history of journalism.

If this were the Renaissance, the Web would be Florence, a place of amazing experimentation where all the old mediums - in this case, print, radio, and television - suddenly converge in one dynamic and democratic place. Yet, the multimedia dimensions of digital journalism are only part of the story. The most powerful attribute of this new journalism is how it directly engages our readers as active participants at every stage of content creation.

For the past year, this has become the passion and focus of BusinessWeek, where I serve as executive editor: It's to reinvent journalism as a process that involves the reader in the front end, to advocate story ideas; in the middle, to inform the reporting of a story; and in the end, to expand on the conversation a story creates. That latter conversation is not a letter-to-the-editor monologue, but rather a dialogue between the professional writers and the audience.

In the early 1960s, Tom Wolfe and other talented writers created the New Journalism. It cleverly deployed the techniques of great fiction to news and feature writing. Today's direct engagement with readers is the antithesis of Mr. Wolfe's self-centered narrative inventions. Call it the "New" New Journalism.

It fully embraces its readers, treats their opinions and beliefs with respect and dignity, and leverages the intelligence of the crowd to create a more valuable outcome for all. It recognizes that content is no longer king; Context is. In a world of commoditization, where too much news and opinion already chases too few eyeballs, this new loyalty-inducing journalism builds community and relationships.

But it's no cakewalk. For the past nine months, we've been aggressively promoting the smartest observations by readers on our stories, encouraging them to send us their story ideas, asking - through blogs - for their participation in stories in progress, inviting them to write guest columns, and urging our journalists to engage in direct conversations with users. In short, we're turning our readers into citizen editors.

All of these efforts culminated in a user-generated issue of BusinessWeek, "Trouble at the Office," which recently hit newsstands, as well as a major new online feature called the "Business Exchange" that debuts Monday.

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