News doesn’t happen in newsrooms. Funny, you’d never know that to look at one. Walk into your average newsroom today - even your ravaged, post-layoff and voluntary departure newsroom - and you’ll see an awful lot of reporters sitting at their desks and trying to sweet talk other people into doing their job for them.
- Witness will not be done by phone - although it may be livestreamed by one.
- Witness will be just that - a journalist giving witness to the things he saw and heard and said. The goal will be to come into the office only long enough to check in, pick up some new batteries, a laptop and camera, and then head out again. Because there are no shortage of stories, just of people willing to find them.
Our city is incredibly diverse - a post-industrial university town desperately struggling to reinvent itself and overcome a crushing poverty rate and a crumbling core. Yet it also houses a vital - if threatened - agricultural sector, an energetic and entrepreneurial artistic community, and world class medical research facilities.
- Witness will cover that whole city, range across it daily, looking for stories - not just the comfortable ones, or the ones fed to us by self-serving sources.
The landmark Northwestern study of newspaper readership found something like 9 key reasons people bought and read newspapers regularly. People, real people, and their stories, was one of top reasons for reading. Another was getting the feeling that the paper, the writer, was “on my side”.
- Witness will also bear witness, reflecting the heart of the community and telling stories for those whose voices have been silenced.
Trust is something to be earned, not assumed.
- Witness will also practice transparency and openness and I’ll publish to the web my written notes, and unedited recorded interviews. I’ll provide links to every bit of research I do. When feasible, I’ll employ web technologies like Foursquare and Lattitude to let readers know precisely where I am in real time.
News is a conversation - which means shutting up sometimes and letting the other guy talk. And listening. I’ll listen.
- Witness will publish to the web at 5 pm on the day before it appears in print. And every night we’ll cull the smartest, truest comments on the column from the web and publish them in the paper the next day right beside the column. News is a conversation.
The community conversations, story telling, takes place on many different platforms, using many different tools and on a near-continuous cycle.
- Witness will also maintain and use Twitter and Facebook and photo and video sharing sites to ensure we are always open to and taking part in conversations with our community.
- Witness will solicit reader/community ideas, stories, photos and will use them all.
- Witness will publish to thespec.com at a specific time on specific days, publish to print, publish full versions via RSS, and will also podcast each column for the commuter, the visually impaired, the auditory learner.
- Witness will use a Posterous or Tumblr blog to post a continual photo record of the city and its people and to record thoughts, notes and observations for future columns while soliciting the same from our audience. The blog is the notebook for the column and the paper.
Although the columns will clearly and necessarily feature a strong and passionate voice, they are not to be a mere sounding board, or soap box for my opinions.
- Witness will be about our city, her people and their stories. Not mine. Once a week, however, I will produce a very short (60-120 sec) self-produced video column which will offer a less restrained look at the week’s events - by way of commentary, exposition, satire, or hell, I don't know — stick figure animation. The vast majority of news video is either pretty pictures, self important or just plain boring. Video as a medium can do so much more and iWitness Video will do just that. (Below is a confection I put together yesterday, simply to demonstrate that I have at least a basic understanding of the grammar of video and sound and editing.)
Witness will stop talking about itself in the disembodied third person right now.
(This is an updated version of the draft pitch I posted last week. I'd to thank all the people who emailed me, offered comments on this blog, messaged me on Twitter, and talked to me in person - the feedback (and encouragement) was fabulous. A special thanks to Steve Buttry, (director of community engagement at the Washington DC internet news start-up, TBD) who took the time to respond to my draft pitch with a thoughtful,