Nieman Fellow, 2014-2015

Yesterday, the Nieman Foundation for Journalism announced the 24 journalists who have been selected as members of the 77th class of Nieman Fellows. I’m excited to say that my name is on that list, alongside some truly inspiring-sounding journalists, editors, and others. I can’t wait to start this adventure in the fall.

I have proposed to use my time to ask one big, silly-sounding question: why do people follow the news?

As a business reporter, I ask startups all the time: Why does the market need your product? Who cares about this, and why will they buy what you’re selling? What are you giving them that they can’t get elsewhere?

We need to ask ourselves this question, too.

Within the media business, we’ve spent a lot of time and energy talking amongst ourselves about why we’d like people to follow the news, or why they should follow the news. We’ve also spent a lot of time looking at why people use specific news products: what platforms, devices, and media types they choose, or which sources they prefer. It’s these questions that have, largely, driven our industry’s efforts at innovation.

I agree that media has an important civic role. But I also believe that in order to play that role, we have to produce a product that our users actually want to consume. Both product innovation and business model innovation are needed to support that goal. If we can identify better articulate how news meets our audience’s needs, perhaps we can identify business models that reward reader*-centric models of reporting and distribution.

I’m very much looking forward to figuring out how to dig into this question and what can be done with the answers that arise. I’d love to hear from anyone who’s interested in collaborating or discussing!

* reader or viewer or listener or … whatever

One response to “Nieman Fellow, 2014-2015”

  1. I will assert that what people variously refer to as “news” has, since Shkespeare first used the word, fallen roughly into three categories:

    Reporting of facts or events, which if necessary, could be proven to be truthful beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

    Opinion with regard to current events presented on an editorial page.

    Propaganda, consisting of opinion reported as objective fact, in a section of publication not designated as an editorial page.

    Some “readers” want all three. The first will be readily referred to as news by most, and the second will often be considered as part of the news. Classification of the third will be, like beauty, to be found in the eye of the beholder.

    Which readers willingly pay attention or money for a news outlet depends largely on which of the above is proferred.

    The intended objective of the writer of news reports, the editorial intent of the producer or owner of a publication, and the presentation or sales of these to a market, are all on the other side of the equation which defines news, but whether the reader buys this definition of “news” will in the long run determine what constitutes a viable news source.
    To paraphrase the immortal words of the movie producer in a famous 1930’s version of A STAR IS BORN, – If the public stays away in droves, there’s nothing you can do to stop them.

    Of course, in the long run, we’re all dead. In the short run, there have been clear cases of news editors getting away with feeding their public dog food, in the teeth of wide-spread complaint.

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