If you ask an older journalist about the past, you will hear at least some crazy stories. By crazy, I mean batshit insane. Things happened back then; you could not imagine in your wildest dreams. You inevitably ask yourself how they managed to create a newspaper every day.

It was a different time, and a different mindset ruled in newsrooms. I’d even state that it was an ego-driven approach to journalism. Me, the journalist, has an idea for a story, and I will write it – no matter what. The journalists had total control over the process, and feedback or criticism was lagging. Maybe some letters were sent, perhaps some phone calls were received.

Yeah, those were the good, old days, the ageing journalist will tell you.

But were they really that good?

Source: NSW State Archves
Source: NSW State Archives

The Traditional Way

Lately, I thought a lot about how this ancient, ego-driven mindset is still very much ingrained in many journalists. Not just longtime employees, no, even in young journalists this romanticized view of their work is living and breathing.

It’s a culture, and cultures are hard to change. Let’s take a look at the conventional way a journalist approaches a story.

Step 1

There’s an idea, perhaps the journalist heard, experienced, saw something he or she thinks might interest the public.

Step 2

The journalist starts his research. He or she will end up with a lot of material, different possibilities to tell the story, even a variety of angles to look at the topic.

Step 3

The journalist has now to decide which way to go. What will be written, what will be left out, discarded as irrelevant to the story? Maybe he or she has some data to make an informed choice. Otherwise, the journalist may quite possibly go with the gut.

Okay, now look at these three steps again. Nowhere within the steps, the public is included in the editorial process. It’s all ego-driven.

Source: Bogomil Mihaylov
Source: Bogomil Mihaylov

This approach fits perfectly in the days of printed newspapers. Today, in a digital media environment, the people formerly known as the audience became not only consumers but creators as well.

However, the journalistic culture doesn’t pay enough respect to this development. Journalists are ready to listen to experts for a story but have a hard time listening to the people they’re writing for. There’s still this notion of journalists that they’re in a position of greater knowledge than the public.

Public contributions are narrowed to the comment section and some user-generated content in the form of photos and videos. That might have worked out in the pre-Instagram era but is not nearly facilitating the purpose of journalism as a service to the public.

Community Journalism Is A Stupid Term

Although user comments and old school user-generated content provide value, there are many other ways to include the people in the editorial process. At Blick.ch, we’ve experimented with different forms of contributions.

We’ve integrated forms into articles, enabling the newsroom to ask specific questions and empowering users to tell their stories. Even a completely open call for questions turned out to work great. After we had a variety of story ideas, we let the community vote. The people decided which story we should tell. It was a portrait of an unemployed man over the age of 50, that outperformed our highest expectations.

Arbeitslosigkeit ab 50 Jahren: 600 Bewerbungen und kein Job - Blick
Beat Hossli hat jahrelang gut verdient. Dann verlor er im Alter von 50 Jahren seinen Job. Das war vor sechs Jahren. Seither findet er keine Stelle mehr. Mit BLICK spricht er ohne Scham über sein Schicksal.

And we’ve created a more interactive form that enabled people to write op-eds to the newly elected parliament.

These examples show that community journalism is in itself a pretty stupid term because it’s not describing a beat like politics, economics, or arts. Politics and economics were embedded in these two cases. It’s a new mindset, a fresh approach; it’s a culture.

How Does A Framework Look Like?

To change the perception of community journalism – or public-powered or audience-driven journalism – we need an easily understood framework that replaces the traditional way, journalists approach a story.

That’s what I’m currently working on at Hyper Island in the module Design Thinking. I’m hacking the Design Council’s ‘Double Diamond’ to be more applicable to journalism. And of course, I will share the final framework with you as soon as it is finished.

Early iterations
Early iterations

Why Do Journalists Have A Hard Time Listening To The Audience?