Commodity journalism -- repacking of information available in many places -- is a fast route to the bottom. Our success lies in depth, in leveraging the knowledge in our archives and brains to not just rewrite releases, but to seek patterns. Our highest purpose is to help readers connect the dots on issues of deep local impact.
When we do it right, it's a heady accomplishment that can be duplicated by no other organization.
As we face the dour reality of diminished resources, it's important that we stop trying to cover everything at all times. We can't afford to be a mile wide and an inch deep.
If we can do even one amazing, incredible, dot-connecting story every day, our readership benefits. The catch: it has to actually be amazing and resonate deeply with the community. Doing meaningful journalism on an issue every day can mean more to readers than a dozen mid-length, mediocre commodity stories.
It's not an easy path, and its one that constantly wants to divert to the safe route of the familiar. But if we can focus on doing fewer -- but truly better -- stories, we can make an even larger impact in the community.
We have resources our forebears could scarcely dream of. From in-depth data on who the community is, what they eat and how they live to minute-by-minute updates to what people read, we can pinpoint what our readership is telling us they demand, and we can find ways to tackle that subject in deep and meaningful ways.
But we have to listen.
We can't continue to be arrogant and assume we know what's best. We can't pat ourselves on the back for "a great story" if nobody actually read it. Today's editor needs to be an analyst as well as a journalist, and have the knowledge of A/B testing, content reports and engagement statistics at hand as quickly as knowledge of AP style.
Using informed intelligence combined with human response, we can deliver stories that remain true to our core values and capture the attention of a community.
When a person donates to NPR, then go on vacation for a week, do they call the station and ask for a percentage back? Do they return just a portion of the tote bag or coffee cup? Of course not.
That model implies membership, while newspapers are firm adherents to subscriptions. One is based on paying not for the actual content itself, but the purpose behind the content and the support of it in the future.
Modern media outlets need to explore giving more to readers than just a paper or website. Readers need to be brought into a true membership experience that includes everything from community public deliberations to trusted discounts to regular 'shareholder meetings.' This approach helps foster a belief in the importance of community information -- and decreases the direct connection between a physical product and a monthly bill.
And speaking of service, our industry needs to find a way to change the value proposition from "pay us money, get a pile of information -- some of which may be useful" to "let us answer your questions."
Newspapers, websites, and even the most modern tablet app all deliver packages of information whether the reader wanted that story or not. What happens when journalists become the product, and not just journalism? The result is highly specialized, focused guides on topics around community interests. These modern journalists can still produce in-depth packages and moving tales, but that needs to consistently be supplanted through their actions as community guides and connectors.
This process of not just writing stories, but directly answering questions creates a more meaningful link to the community and helps us return the notion of service journalism to its roots as both watchdogs and stewards of knowledge.