Voice of San Diego is one of dozens of regional non-profit news organizations that have cropped up in the last few years, partly as a response to the downsizing of newspapers the experimentation in new ways to pay for “capital J” journalism. We, like the VOSD’s and Bay Citizen’s and Texas Tribune’s out there, are building a new journalism brand in an era of information overload. So how do we distinguish ourselves? The answer lies in our approach, and I can’t emphasize enough that we must make context our franchise.
So I was thrilled when media observer and critic Jay Rosen got a copy of VOSD’s Reporter Expectations and posted them on his site last week. There a lot of key principles we share. You can read the full list at PressThink, but I’ve picked out, below, the parts most aligned with the StateImpact mission.
Voice of San Diego: New Reporter Guidelines
We only do something if we can do it better than anyone or if no one else is doing it.
* We must add value. We must be unique.
Three things to remember for each story:
* Not just what is happening, but what it means
Be the expert.
* Write with authority. You earn the right to write with authority by reporting and working hard.
* No “he said, she said.”
* The day we write a headline that says: “Proposal has pros, cons” is the day we start dying.
* There is no such thing as 50/50 balance. There is a truth and we work our damndest to get there.
* Sometimes two viewpoints don’t deserve 50/50 treatment.
* Most of the time there aren’t two sides to something, anyways. There are 17. Who’s not being represented? If they’re not speaking up, how can you represent them?
* We don’t just “put things out there.” We’re not “only asking the question.”
* We don’t ask questions with our stories. We answer them.
* We don’t write question headlines, unless they’re so damn good that we can’t resist.
We don’t do this: “Did City Official Take Bribe?”
Or, to cite a recent example: “Did Wikileaks Hack Servers?”
We’d maybe do this: “How Did a City Official End Up With Millions in Donations?”
* We’re not someone’s goddamn transcription service. They can relay their own news. In a world where leaders are able to communicate directly with their constituents very easily, we have to a.) make sense of what they say and b) find out the things they don’t want to say. It’s the only way to effectively use our limited resources.
Tell the truth.
* This means not being mealy mouthed and not being bias-bullied.
* Stand up to bias bullies. Tell them why you did something. Let them challenge you on it.
* If someone calls you biased, don’t be scared. Don’t dismiss it either. Reflect on it and answer with conviction.
* Don’t go quote-hunting for something you know to be true and can say yourself. Don’t hide your opinion in the last quote of a story.
* Take a stand when you know something to be true or wrong.
Focus on big problems
* David Simon, the creator of The Wire, has a quote that can be paraphrased this way: Journalism is good at solving small problems or taking small bites of a big problem. It’s not good at solving big problems. (see Simon’s 2008 piece, ‘Does the News Matter to Anyone Anymore?’)
* It’s easy as a journalist to take a stand against a six-figure salary. It’s easy to take a stand against an expensive meal on an expense report. Why do we take stands on those things and why are we afraid to take stands on bigger issues?
If you can’t find a good answer any of these three questions, drop the story:
* Why did I choose this story?
* Why will people care? (Not why should they care, but why will they care.)
* Why will people remember this story?
Have fun! Be creative! Push the envelope!
* You don’t do this for the money. So let’s have some fun.
* Try something that’s never been tried before. Or try something that someone else did somewhere else. Don’t do a story just to do it. Or because it’s an interesting exercise.
* Think about what will impact people or policy makers. What will they want to read or what will force them to make a change?
* Be a student of today’s great journalistic innovations.
* Be a leader of today’s great journalistic innovations.