News Leadership 3.0

October 14, 2008

Rebuilding the news

Jarvis’ notion: Replace the article
with a richer, more useful source
What are your ‘building blocks’ for news?

Jeff Jarvis has suggested news providers must come up with new building blocks for news that replace the article.

Jarvis instead would organize news and information around topics and take full advantage of the Web to create spaces that pull together news, history and context, discussion and other contributions by users and experts alike. It’s a promising take on the power of aggregation—a power most news organizations have yet to tap.

Here’s Jarvis:

I think the new building block of journalism needs to be the topic. I don’t mean that in the context of news site topic pages, which are just catalogues of links built to kiss up to Google SEO. Those are merely collections of articles, and articles are inadequate.

“Instead, I want a page, a site, a thing that is created, curated, edited, and discussed. It’s a blog that treats a topic as an ongoing and cumulative process of learning, digging, correcting, asking, answering. It’s also a wiki that keeps a snapshot of the latest knowledge and background. It’s an aggregator that provides annotated links to experts, coverage, opinion, perspective, source material. It’s a discussion that doesn’t just blather but that tries to accomplish something (an extension of an article like this one that asks what options there are to bailout a bailout). It’s collaborative and distributed and open but organized.

“Think of it as being inside a beat reporter’s head, while also sitting at a table with all the experts who inform that reporter, as everyone there can hear and answer questions asked from the rest of the room—and in front of them all are links to more and ever-better information and understanding.

“This is the way to cover stories and life.”

This is a very smart idea. It’s got great utility and information value. It needn’t rely on sophisticated Web tools. It holds great potential in the realm of local news.

To explore that potential, I have tried to envision an online space devoted to a local news classic—Street Repairs in Your Town. Here’s what the site could include:

—A searcheable database that shows what streets have been repaved and when, what streets are scheduled to be repaved and when, or what streets are not on any schedule.

—A map created from the database.

—A feature that allows users (journalists too) to post comments and upload photos on the state of their neighborhood streets. Bonus points: This material is integrated into the map.

—A short article (yes, still) that frames the issue, gives key history (say, citizens have voted down the last three street levies and why), and links to the most important resources.

—Links to recent news articles about the issue on your news site and others.

—An archive of relevant city resolutions and ordinances and city council and any local board meetings. Bonus points: Organize or tag material for easy search. Perhaps this is a wiki to which all users can contribute links and other footnotes.

—Featured links to information on Web sites that describe how other localities keep their streets paved.

I’m not a Web producer. But none of this is Web rocket science. Pretty much all of this material could feed the print newspaper. So the “too busy putting out the paper” rationale doesn’t seem to apply. Think about it. A repository for news and understanding that just keeps giving. Bonus points: Transparency helps make the process of street-paving more fair and better understood. That would be journalism.

Of course, street paving may not be a burning issue in your community, but there must be others. Perhaps it’s time for a page on gasoline prices and ways to save gas. Or information how to live on a budget in a tough economy—generic and readily available links combined with local journalistic effort and user discussion?

What do you think of this model? What issues in your community might benefit from this approach and how would you address them? Please share your ideas in the comments.




Michele, this is really cool.

In fact, if we shifted your example slightly to “needed street repairs,” instead of just “street repairs,” that might be something that could be tracked and covered by this proposed Knight News Challenge project by Brian Boyer:



- Amy Gahran

Also, Chuck Peters, head of Gazette Communications in Iowa, is one example of a news exec who really “gets” this approach.

See his blog:

I think it’s worth watch Brian’s & Chuck’s efforts on this front, as well as Adrian Holovaty’s project

- Amy Gahran

Thanks Amy. I was struck today by your post at Poynter E-media tidbits ... here

saying that not many news organizations are going for Knight News Challenge grants. I hope that changes!

Hi Michele,

The site you are describing exists… in the UK. FixMyStreet is one of the incredible projects done by MySociety, whose work should really get more attention than it does in this country.

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Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

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