Is this “against pretty much every journalistic principle”? Should it be?

Last month, Mohamed Nanabhay of Al Jazeera asked what would be the most important things to include if one was building a news website from scratch. It kicked off a great conversation, largely via Twitter. I think it’s a question that more people are asking as we are open to more radical ideas to support journalism as the print business model comes under increasing pressure.

I collected some of the responses and added some of my own, but I wanted to flag up this response from Mads Kristensen in Denmark. He recast the question in terms not of building a news site but rather a media site “since the news business is so over-commoditized by now that it’s arguable if there’s any strategic advantage in looking just at news”. Some journalists might wince at that statement, but there is a lot of truth in it. We really need to ask some hard questions about what is our unique selling point. What information, analysis or entertainment are we providing that one else does?

Mads asks a question that is increasingly on my mind:

So to my mind this is more an idea of how to redefine media as such without the legacy of the old media companies. So what would I do?

I really am beginning to think that the ideas that will redefine media, news and information in a digital age will not come from legacy companies. They are in the awkward position of trying to build a new business to support the old, and I increasingly think that two motivations are mutually exclusive.

Mars’ vision is very customer oriented, which is not a view that one would hear in most news rooms. The question is what do our readers want to read or viewers want to see but rather what do we think they need to read an see. Mars believes:

Yes, I would act a lot more according to the stated needs of the community rather to what I myself would find important. I realize that’s against pretty much every journalistic principle in the book, but ultimately I think that’s one of the reasons why media companies struggle to stay relevant. And at the end of the day I would rather stay relevant and in business.

It’s sad to think that it would be considered against ‘every journalistic principle in the book’ to think this way. Every time I express that view, I’m accused of wanting to pander to the audience. I beg to differ. Journalists who don’t know want their communities want are both out of touch and these days soon to find themselves out of a job, and only a journalist in touch with their community knows what they really need to know.

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