Thursday, February 23, 2012

Reuters changes editorial policy...a harbinger of things to come

I've blogged at length on how the journalism industry is being forced to change, as facts become more ubiquitous and more easily distributed.

In short, the reporting of facts has very little value, as 1) it becomes more easily distributed, and 2) it becomes more automated. In the next few years we'll reach the point where companies like NarrativeScience create software that can digest a whole bunch of facts and spit out an objective story to recap it for anyone interested. OK, so maybe they've already figured that out, but it will take a while for them and others like them to take over the whole segment.

Anyway, for journalism to continue to be relevant, one of the points I've consistently made was that writers will need to go deeper. Not just long form pieces like traditional features in magazines (though this is also an option), but also more investigative efforts. When easily distributed facts have their distribution automated, you've got to be able to find new facts no one knows.

So it was heartening to see a major news organization like Reuters announce, in an internal meeting, that there will be a renewed focus on investigative journalism.

Reuters is adopting a new editorial approach aimed at winning Pulitzer Prizes: long, in-depth, investigative special reports from all bureaux. In the longer term the organisation will have fewer journalists; they will be better paid. There will be strict attention to performance and greater staff turnover; foreign postings will be longer than the usual three years; international assignment packages will be eliminated.

This was the essence of a briefing for European chief correspondents given at a recent meeting in London called by editor-in-chief Stephen Adler, his deputy Paul Ingrassia and Stuart Karle, chief operating officer for Reuters news agency, according to various accounts of the session by people present.

Under the new dispensation correspondents will have to set themselves a minimum target for long-form investigative takeouts and keep to it.

During a recent visit to European bureaux Ingrassia contrasted what he termed “adrenaline journalism” – the traditional wire service story flow – with “aspiration journalism” – the new investigative writing at length that is now being pushed for editorial operations.

Now, this might be put forth under the guise of trying to win more Pulitzers, and maybe it's not a guise at all. But whether on purpose or not, Reuters is doing something that will force its writers to develop the skills they'll need to keep their jobs.

For those that can build investigative chops, they'll still have work to do. The rest however, will face the same circumstances as elevator operators and bank tellers.

No comments: