I was interviewed this summer by Ann Cooper of the Columbia Journalism Review for her story, “The Bigger Tent: Who’s a Journalist? Is Over; the Question Now is, Who Does Journalism,” which appeared in this months CJR. I was curious this morning to see if anything I said actually made it into the article, or if it was mostly or totally on background (since I have no massive ego to feed, it didn’t really matter to me either way, but I was curious). But of course, CJR’s bizarre policy of trickling out its print-content online (and not ever putting up some if its content) meant that I’ll have to wait until I get to school later today to read the story in my very own comp-copy of the CJR, and that if I wanted to link to the story I’d have to wait until it eventually migrated online (by which point I’ll probably have forgotten about it).
I realize that “online versus paper” debates at CJR have been the subject of much discussion; I also realize that there are different visions of how print and online products relate to each other (i.e., the Philadelphia Inquirer non-controversy about paper first, and also this recent, very insightful article about a decision by the Bowling Green Daily News to not have a web first strategy [hat tip: Simon Owens]).
If we are trying to rethink what journalistic work needs to be in a digital age, wouldn’t it make sense to have a person whose job it was to ask, for every story in every publication– whether a daily or weekly or monthly or whatever– “given the content of this story, the needs of our audience, and the general goals of our publication, does it make sense for this story to go up on the web, and when?” I don’t understand why you wouldn’t want to HIRE someone to make these sorts of decisions, or at least have it part of an employees job description. Journalistic expertise used to include the expertise to decide if a story was an A1 story or a B13 story; there’s no reason now why that expertise wouldn’t include the mental calculation discussed above. The ability to make the above decision properly is one of the things that will go into determining who has authority online, and why.
Applying the above calculation to the story at hand, “The Bigger Tent,” we might have a thought process like this:
We want people to buy our magazine. However, this story is mostly about whether bloggers and online journalists are really journalists, a subject that people in the blogosphere are obsessed wit, because they are Very Self Absorbed. Therefore, putting this story up online right away will probably get us internet buzz. And we can only get internet buzz if its possible for the very people we are talking about to link to us. Therefore, it makes sense to put this story online immediately, and rather than driving down our print numbers this might actually help increase them, if we leave some more print friendly stories off the online archive. At the very least, it will get us linked.
The ability to answer a question like this correctly is one of the keys to online authority in a digital age.