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Process journalism means not holding out on your readers

May 10, 2010

@moniguzman Twitter status update

Part of process journalism is letting people know *when* you're working so they know a story isn't just sitting there.

Readers want immediacy, but they also want depth. How do you provide both? Two words: Process Journalism.

News consumers are smart. Despite what cynicism and polluted comment threads (which you should clean up, by the way) might suggest, people who read news are sharp. If you’re only posting two stories a day, they know you’re holding out on them.

The way you satiate these people’s need for depth, insight and updates, updates, updates is to open up you process to them and bring them inside. If you’re a business reporter, you’re probably up checking before the opening bell has rung and most of us have gotten out of bed. What did you find that was so important and what specific parts of those stories were key? Tell me and link to them. Who called you this morning and what tidbits of information did they clue you in on? Tweet about it. What minute connection did you notice between this story here and this other story way over here? Let me know.

Journalists are touchy about this because they think what they traditionally produced (print) was a perfect product. They see the fundamental difference between themselves and “bloggers” as being perfection versus imperfection—veracity versus rumor. As Jeff Jarvis says:

Online, we often publish first and edit later. […] Online, the story, the reporting, the knowledge are never done and never perfect. That doesn’t mean that we revel in imperfection … that we have no standards. It just means that we do journalism differently, because we can. We have our standards, too, and they include collaboration, transparency, letting readers into the process, and trying to say what we don’t know when we publish – as caveats – rather than afterward – as corrections.

There’s nothing wrong or unethical about leveling with your readers—telling them, Hey, I’m learning these facts as I go, too, and these are the sources I’m learning from. Readers know you’re doing this anyway—they know you don’t know anything—and to deny that’s happening or to tell them not to look till you’re done is an invitation for them to look elsewhere.

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