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Why Newspapers Still Don’t Get The Web

As I was preparing the "Seven Steps To Writing Like a Digital Native" guide, I was struck again by just how much newspapers are blinded to the power the web offers us.
It is, I think, one of the biggest mistake newspapers make online: failing to use the web’s rich resources or at least some of them, in every story. It’s a mistake is deeply rooted in our print culture — we’re highly competitive and we’re used to owning and controlling everything we publish. But the web is different and that mistake costs us dearly, I think because it causes us to miss out on opportunities to make our stories very useful. It stems, in part, from our failure to understand the rich traditions of sharing and connection that have grown on the web.
Here are some simple truths about web publishing that are completely anti-intuitive to print culture:

Sharing your audience builds your audience
Sending people away (to good information) makes them come back to you more often
You don’t have to own content to use and share it — filtering it is a very valuable job
Your story is part of a living, moving, changing conversation in which virtually all the participants know more than you do. Your story joins the conversation — it doesn’t own it.

It’s the last point, I think that causes journalists the biggest concern, because it forces us to re-evaluate our role. Too often we like to think of ourselves as experts, especially by the time we sit down to write (or publish) our stories. Many of us revel in that role (we have inside knowledge about important events and people — we must be special!) and have come to perhaps unconsciously internalize that thinking, to thread it through our sense of self, our identity.
So being asked to admit that we’re the dumb ones on a story, or being urged to share the stuff that makes us special (our documents, our interviews, our access to information) with our readers … well, that’s mighty hard for some.
But it’s critical to success on the web.
Our stories should acknowledge the other participants in the conversation (the story) by: linking to them and to their work; by documenting our interactions with them and making that available (so our work can be judged); by linking to whatever earlier manifestations of that conversation the audience might be able to readily access, i.e. other web resources.
This is not only humble, it increases transparency around our work, and hopefully increases the audience’s trust in what we do, while also giving anyone who’s truly interested in the story a chance to drink deeply from the niche.
This rant is not especially new, nor original. To digital natives it’s even obvious. And there are some bright lights shining in various corners of the web: I referred to this briefly in an earlier post, but the blogs built at the National Post by Kenny Yum  aren’t shy about linking to outside content and in fact "Posted" does it regularly. And as the Publishing 2.0 blog pointed out recently, a New York Times blog has  embraced "link journalism".
But those examples are too few and far between.
(photo from Karen Dalziel’s Flickr photostream – CC attribution licenced)

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