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May 29, 2009, 8 a.m.

Dan Froomkin’s five-point plan on how to reconnect with readers

[Here’s the final part of Dan Froomkin’s essay on the ills facing American newspapers, where he proposes a few answers. You can catch up on the entire essay here. —Josh]

So much of what we do, we do because it’s always been done that way. But here are a few examples of how writing for a new medium can encourage us to rethink things we do that make us seem boring and aloof.

Embrace transparency. Daily newspapers are notoriously non-transparent, an old habit that at least in part stems from our lack of space. We historically haven’t had the column inches to “waste” on an explanation of how we got a story, or what the problems were in reporting it, or to defend it once it’s attacked. We just “let the story speak for itself.” Space seems to have been at a particular premium in the corrections box. But the Internet both demands and facilitates transparency. We should be much more willing to admit errors and explain ourselves – with a guiding principle being that the more people understand how we operate, the more they will trust us.

Raise unanswered questions. The daily newspaper paradigm is all about reporting what we know. But sometimes, the most important things are the things we don’t know. I would like to see reporters routinely appended a list of important unanswered questions to their stories. Not only would that engage readers, but it might put more pressure on sources to divulge what they know.

Stop the stenography. Part of effectively calling the B.S. is not covering non-events. Some press conferences and public meetings don’t generate anything worth writing about. Conversely, sometimes the news is not what it initially appears to be. If a source tries to sell us some outrageous spin, perhaps that’s the story right there. Readers will thank us for our honestly.

More accountability journalism. Reporters should be doing watchdog stories on every beat, not just ones that have “investigative” in the title. Accountability journalism differentiates us and reminds readers online and off of why journalism deserves some of their attention every day.

Unleash our readers’ voices. In addition to collecting readers around our voices, we should make sure our readers can find theirs, too. And when they are saying something worthwhile, we should make sure our readers are heard, as well. To that end, we should move aggressively to adopt best practices in mass Internet participation. Our goal should be a system that allows good ideas, relevant personal stories, informed opinions and perhaps even consensus on some issues to bubble up to the surface – and even into our reportage.

In conclusion, if our newsrooms don’t change, our future is pretty bleak. It’s my hope that the answer is not smaller newsrooms, or reinvented newsrooms, but newsrooms where our dedicated and hard-working editors and reporters don’t hold back in the name of anachronism and inertia, but deliver their full value to the next generation of readers.

Photo by J.D. Lasica used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     May 29, 2009, 8 a.m.
PART OF A SERIES     Dan Froomkin on news' future
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