Memo to Dallas Morning News: Citizens are the new Fourth Estate

From Poynter:

The Dallas Morning News faces the same forces confronting the rest of the newspaper industry: the painstaking and painful process of re-imagining and remaking something that worked very well for a long time that now has a crumbling business model, an audience that’s moved on, technology that is constantly shifting and a culture largely entrenched in the way things used to work.

So they tried to change.

No more desks and beats. Teams now organize into hubs oriented around topics such as breaking news, justice and high school sports. As part of their coverage, each reporter is expected to develop an obsession to follow, inspired by the way Quartz organizes coverage around changing phenomena instead of fixed institutions. As at Quartz, they’ll refrain from covering institutions just because they’ve always covered them. And unlike beats, obsessions aren’t expected to live forever. To start, reporters are expected to pitch an obsession that they can report on regularly for six months.

According to the Morning News’ findings from this summer, “obsessions can be offbeat.”

Offbeat? Really? How about pro life? Intelligent design of life forms? Global warming is a fraud? Marriage is a natural institution between a man and a woman? Some religions have bigger problems with curbing violence than others, and it stems in part from their theology?

Gosh, I sure hope the autopsy reports don’t show that anyone who suggested anything like that died an exceptionally cruel death at the hands of their steadfast colleagues “pitching an obsession.”

Legacy papers are doing some things right, he said, and with good intentions. The Wall Street Journal is aggressively pushing Snapchat. The New York Times is going after Virtual Reality and native advertising. USA TODAY is embedding its core product in Gannett papers. And The Washington Post has a clear drive to accumulate a massive digital audience.

But none of them have it figured out yet. Neither, he said, have digital-first sites. You can admire BuzzFeed’s ability to grow its audience and VICE’s ability to attract millennials, but no organization has yet to find a sustainable business model that’s growing and profitable at the same time, he said.

“I don’t think any one of them has actually figured it out, either.” More.

Reality check: Never will. The big problem is that, as noted above, the internet means that citizens are the new fourth estate. The main reason the Trump victory came as such a surprise is the huge underground network of digitally linked human beings who do not buy what you are contemptuously selling them, as if they have no choice.

It will take more than a new look to get round that. And should he win, your whole social set is toast. But even if he doesn’t… just going digital won’t help. Can you weld? Paint? Mow lawns? Do anything other than act superior?

Could you act as though things that really matter to other people really matter?

See also: Local Correct Thought bastion Torstar Posts $234.5 Million Q4 Loss

  • I don’t envy us, the government is watching.

  • dance…dancetotheradio

    BCF is the new fourth estate.
    I’m just a passenger.

    • Minicapt

      Ha … bumper rider!


  • Millie_Woods

    “..each reporter is expected to develop an obsession to follow..”

    They should have capped the number who are obsessed with demonizing Trump at around 80%. That would have left more to demonize Cruz.

  • Alain

    Of course the idea of getting back to professional investigative reporting instead of seeing yourself as an agent for bringing about social change never occurred to them.

    • El Martyachi

      Honestly it rarely occurred to many reporters, ever.

  • tom_billesley

    Big media is like big politics. It relies on big donors.