Spot.Us founder David Cohn has convened a virtual carnival: He’s posing monthly questions that he’d like to see journalists take a stab at answering. The latest: how do we diversify the news ecosystem? He put it differently — “Considering your unique circumstances, what steps can be taken to increase the number of news sources?” — but I’m pretty sure the end goal is a greater diversity of information and expanded news ecosystem.
What can I do? Work to make document-based investigative reporting a little easier and a little more transparent. That’s what DocumentCloud is all about.
One thing we can do is make it easier for reporters to access information. That would certainly go a long way towards making it possible for more New Yorkers to report on New York City policy and governance.
Another thing newsrooms can do, and here is where understanding news as an ecosystem, built of organisms that depend on one another comes in, is to spend less energy competing to get a story first and start acknowledging reporting that inspired a story.
No one newsroom can ever tell a complete picture, but a complete picture emerges from the work of many reporters looking at the same story, each with their own unique perspective. If some of those reporters went to journalism school or were mentored by a prize winning journalist while others are just calling it like they see it without even the benefit of a copy editor, more power to us all. (And if you imagine that the former never get a story outrageously wrong or that the latter are never spot-on, you haven’t been paying attention.)
We’re primed to think that competition is a good thing, and sometimes it is. Sometimes competition is exactly what drives us to do our best work. Sometimes, however, newsrooms get so caught up in the race to get to a story first that they forget to give props to the inspiring work happening around them.
Neighborhood Blogs are a Great Resource
One of my favorite neighborhood bloggers, who regularly reports on the shenanigans of local developers and local precinct community meetings — stories no newsroom is watching nearly so closely, also keeps an unfortunate running tally of stories of hers that were picked up by the press without so much as a nod. All she really wants is a nod, but a news cycle stuck on getting the story first can’t give her that.
There’s nothing wrong with looking for leads neighborhood blogs. When you one, though, find a way to weave an acknowledgement into the story. It is common courtesy, and it leaves your friendly local bloggers free to be incensed by construction gaffes and intransigent municipal bureaucracies instead of ticked off at you.
Journalists ought to be able to share their reporting, pool technical skills and give one another the courtesy of due credit. All would go a long way toward increasing the vitality of the news ecosystem.