Writing the New ‘Virtuous’ Newspaper

The virtuous circle from Digitaldickinson on Vimeo.

Andy Dickenson made an interesting post on the idea of a ‘virtuous circle’ that animates contemporary news writing – the thesis is that journalists should become better members of a media-community by writing in ways that listen to and benefit the people they write about. Per an amendement from another blogger, this includes making links and engaging the bloggers you write about conversationally, on a personal level.

When I try to tell people about the work I do, I often have to resort to a series of vague or endlessly complex descriptors – I usually say something like: “Well, I’m a journalist/blogger/activist/PR type” or just “Web shit.” For me, the ‘link economy’ means that writers have to become part-time savants, writing as members of a movement or industry, while journalists primarily act as sorters and assemblers of information, with the time to put feet on the ground and pursue official sources.

I think there are two points:

First, that in a world with so much writing done by so many people, creating a fragmented viewership, writers have to become PR agents as well. Writing doesn’t mean anything as such, because it gets lost in the wash of information available on the internet. That means that writers have to do their own promotion – and the best way to do promotion is through ‘loose ties’ and folks that know your relationship yields mutual benefits. Thus the importance of active participation in social movements, and mutual linking – both of these generate loose ties and create connections where both people can benefit from an interaction.

Second, the idea of ‘journalistic magic.’ I’m sure this has a more specific, fleshed out meaning, but I’d like to propose one way to think about the ‘magic’ that might be useful for people designing new media-products. What people lack more than anything is time, and it is time that makes good writing possible – editing, revisions, pursuing sources, etc. The difference between original, effective content and the wash of blather is a division of labor, where some writers can afford to make the time to take their writing seriously, and others can’t. The best way to make original content that stands out from the mileu is to pay people enough that they take their writing seriously – it doesn’t have to be a huge sum, but just enough for them to take a few hours to work over a post, make some phone calls, etc.

So, in my mind, an effective ‘new newspaper’ would be based around a specific location or institution, making small payments to part time writers that engage that place/institution as something other than merely writers. A motley crew of writers, bloggers, and editors that build a brand around one idea or place, rather than around the idea of news as such.


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