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Nieman Journalism Lab
Pushing to the future of journalism — A project of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard

Newsrooms as war rooms

“Instead of ‘news,’ journalism will be about ‘emphasis,’ and each journalistic organization will define itself by how it defines ‘emphasis.’”

Newsrooms have come a long way since the time they were just wooden desks with typewriters on top, booze in the drawers, and reporters and editors rushing around deciding what the populace should read. In 2013, it will be increasingly clear that the newsroom will not be a staging area for the day’s news, as it has been for a century, where the day’s events are hunted down and wrangled into well-defined paragraphs, with the occasional graphic or sound file to go along.

The model for the new journalism, as it develops in 2013, will not be the old journalism, which is still based on the revenue models and layout of a newspaper. Mobile — where readers are growing — has killed that.

Newsrooms will be less about the day’s news — much of which has already been taken out of our hands by the 24-hour, minute-by-minute news cycle — and become more like a war room, or a science lab, where teams of researchers think about how to contextualize, present, illustrate, and spread key information, whether it happened that day or not.

The model will be more like science, or education: Journalists will be paid not for scoops, but for contextualizing information, organizing it in a way that serves the reader, and presenting it in multiple media. A news homepage will — or should — look more like a periodic table, with small boxes of usable information grouped by kind, not by publication date. That will eventually replace the vertical and unwieldy story-by-story format of many current sites, which are ruled mostly by temporal concerns of “what is the news now.” Instead of “news,” journalism will be about “emphasis,” and each journalistic organization will define itself by how it defines “emphasis.” Advertisers, in turn, will have a clearer idea about audience reach.

A relative minority of those teams in newsrooms, by the way, will be “journalists” as they have been defined so far, with a background in newsgathering and reporting. Instead, prominent roles will be played — as they have been already — by interactive departments, social media experts, programmers, video experts, audio experts, and others with technical expertise. A journalist will be, to use a euphemism, “an information worker” or “an idea worker,” so that everyone in newsrooms, from programmers to engineers to copy editors to designers, will have to become trained in how to treat content responsibly. There has already been significant progress toward “multimedia” newsrooms, but in many places the silos are still clear: Journalists dig up information and then the proper interactive, video, or audio folks create a template to suit that information. It hasn’t gone as far as it has yet to go.

Heidi Moore is U.S. finance and economics editor of The Guardian. Previously, she was New York bureau chief and Wall Street correspondent for public radio’s Marketplace.