Monday, June 9, 2008

Before you can find, you must first let go

AdvertisingAge's 3-minute video roundup today features Newsweek senior staff writer Johnnie Roberts telling the audience at last week's "Future of Media" panel that everyone at the magazine, editorial and business alike, is descending on this year's gaggle of interns, hoping they'll reveal the secret to making social networking work--presumably because Newsweek folks think that's the key to making the Internet work for magazines.

Maybe it is. Maybe it isn't. It is encouraging that editors and biz folk are reaching out to the younger, and perhaps savvier, folks in this biz, instead of trying to figure it all out on their own.

But what's wrong with the picture is a bunch of senior staff hoping to find a goose laying a golden egg -- the idea that the key to survival is to find something out there and bring it in here and then, boom, you're done.

The paradigm is wrong.

Yes, there's plenty of good stuff out there. But traditional news organizations will never be able to leverage it effectively until they first let go of outdated ways of thinking about news. You can't stuff new tools into old ways of thinking and expect that they'll work.

Andre Gide once said, "In order to discover new lands, you must first be willing to lose sight of the shore." In order to find the future of news, traditional newspeople must first be willing to say goodbye some of the things they know and hold sacred. Ideas that were entirely appropriate in the old world--on the old shores, if you will--but either won't work or are actually counter-productive in the new one.

The idea, for example, that news must be delivered seriously. That you can't have a voice, a personality, a point of view in your writing. The idea, for example, that you always have to write authoritatively, as if you know the score, never sharing with your audience the parts you do understand and the parts you don't. The idea, for example, that news is broadcast. We tell you. You listen. Rather than a conversation.

It will only be in letting go of those things that don't work, that traditional newspeople will be able to begin the journey to the new shores. And it will be hard. Because they will have to let go of the old long before they grasp the new. They will have to spend days, weeks, months, even years perhaps, bobbing in confusing seas, not really getting it, feeling horribly off balance. The exact anathema to what traditional newspeople like to feel.

And yet, they are entirely capable of it, if they only allow themselves to give it a shot. For what, after all, is digging up a story than that very experience? The starting out, not really getting it, not being able to see the story, but just continuing, continuing, continuing, asking more questions, and gathering more information, until finally the picture becomes clear. We do this every day in our reporting. We simply must find the courage to do it in our business as well.

Photo courtesy of tiarescott

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