The November issue of Fast Company magazine has a story in it about some of the stuff we’ve done over the last 10 years or so. Though I was very honored that a magazine that I not only read, but subscribe to would want to do something on our work and and strategies, I really have mixed emotions about the article.
Anyone who has ever heard me talk at a conference or visited one of my places of employment knows all of what we do is really a team project. I do everything I can to emphasize that this is a long way from being a one-nerd show, because it is. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some of the smartest and most talented people on the planet — Adrian Holovaty, Simon Willison, Dan Cox, Nick Hollensbe, Ed Coyle, Randy Ryan, Levi Chronister, Eric Moritz, Tim Richardson, Ellyn Angelotti, Ira Spitzer and Deryck Hodge to name just a very few.
And the Fast Company article really never focused on that, even though I not only mentioned those people but suggested that many of them be interviewed (which they were) … and that kind of bummed me out.
On the other hand, for the first time in my career, my mother actually understands what I do for a living, and that’s all because of this article.
Another interesting aspect of the article has been the huge amount of e-mail and phone calls I have received from journalists all over the world since it was published.
One of the common themes I hear from both friends and strangers who have e-mailed me relates to this part of the Fast Company story:
The irony is that Curley is teaching newspapers to do the very thing they did so well for so long: cover the local community. “I don’t think I’m new media,” he says. “I’m old school. I think newspapers lost their way and started focusing on big investigative stuff and forgot to cover the prom or 10-year-olds playing baseball.” Not the Daily News. It’s running a yearlong series exploring the lack of affordable housing in the area, including an online database of 100,000 home sales during the past three years.
As one person wrote, there definitely sounds like a “contradiction” in that paragraph. And there is.
Anyone who has worked with me for even an hour knows how much I *love* huge enterprise stories. I loved them when I was a reporter and I love them now that I’m more in an editor’s role. Heck, the paragraph in question even mentions the massive affordable housing project we were working on in Naples.
The point I was trying to make in the quote in that paragraph was I think that if you were to ask a roomful of editors or reporters if they would rather work on a huge enterprise series or a big package that gave a nice overview of one of the big events that happen in most people’s lives (such as the prom), my guess is that the majority of those journalists would say they would much rather do the big investigative piece. And that’s not a sin, or even a wrong response as I see it.
But to me, there also is nothing more honorable than documenting the living history of a community — and that’s one of the things I strongly feel a local newspaper should do. People turn to their local newspaper for so many reasons, and I don’t think as an industry we should overlook that many of our readers look to us for a sense of community. To me, that means things like the prom should be important to us because things like the prom are important to our readers.
Do I think that big newspapers like the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune or LA Times should cover the local proms in their region? I honestly don’t know. I’ve only worked at a big newspaper for about six weeks, and I’m having enough trouble finding the damn bathroom in our building, let alone participating in decisions like that.
That being said, my gut tells me that if large metro newspapers want to be considered the “local” newspaper, they should try to cover at least some of these types of events.
And if they don’t, I’m betting some other news organization will step in to fill that void. It’s the small newspapers — the tiny daily and weekly newspapers — that are still doing really well right now and I don’t think that’s an accident. Many of these small papers cover things as local as the prom and I’m convinced that sort of relevancy is one of the keys for readers who have more and more options.
I know the New York Daily News and New York Post can be snarky, but there’s no doubt they feel like local newspapers. And maybe that’s why their circulation numbers are going up. (Which I fully admit to not knowing the exact reasons behind because I’m neither a circulation director nor a research analysis.)
I’m not for one second suggesting all newspapers should run huge headlines that might be more than a little over-the-top with stories that follow suit, but maybe a lot of the other local things that these two newspapers are doing strikes a chord with big-city readers. Maybe the New York Daily News and New York Post know how to do “local” in one of the biggest cities in the world.
My point is this:
There is big “J” journalism and little “j” journalism, and I feel newspapers have the obligation to provide both for their communities. We have to do all that we can to continue to be the Fourth Estate — to be the watchdogs. But we also shouldn’t be too big for our britches to cover the little things that mean so much to our readers.
We absolutely shouldn’t be afraid or ashamed to give our audiences the things that help them live their daily lives better or make them smile … and give it to them in whatever way they want it: in print, online, on mobile phones through both browsing and text messages, on iPods, with RSS feeds, via e-mail, through instant messaging, etc…
As I probably say too often, if we can figure out how to beam our content to readers’ asses, we should do it immediately. Even content about the local prom.