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Only Journalists with Value Need Apply

So my brother who lives in Bonita Springs, Florida, wanted to know why anyone would pay a $100 to support a reporter, and why would 1,000 people do it? After all, the reporters he sees at his area’s papers are often young, inexperienced, don’t have a clue about life in his town and when they begin to learn their way around they leave for another better newspaper job.

Robert Picard in Journalism, Value  Creation and  the  Future  of  News  Organizations makes another point about valueless reporters. He writes:

Average journalists share the same skills sets and the same approaches to stories, seek out the same sources, ask similar questions, and produce relatively similar stories. Few journalists encounter skills-related problems changing from one news organization to another and the average journalist is easily replaced by another.

If newspaper reporters are interchangeable parts and mostly they are, then what special value do they have? Why would you want to pay for one? Well, the answer for me is in most cases I would not. The Representative Journalist has to be a new breed. Not someone who simply reports the news as in asks a few questions and then quickly types the answers and then moves on to the next story.

Our Representative Journalist has to provide value in a new way. Part of the job is traditional news-gathering, but part is also writing the equivalent of  white papers. If you are, let’s say the Representative Journalist, for birders  in Northwestern Georgia, you are not going to get far writing cute little stories about midnight owling walks. In fact, those are the kind of stories your Representative Journalism community members can write or better yet video tape, with you sometimes doing a special feature in that vein. Rather you have to know more about birds or be willing to learn more about birds in that part of the country than almost anyone else in the community even while you keep tapping into that community for even more information.

You have to know about ecological systems, every bird’s song, about bird health and habitat and about your fellow birders. You have to know about birding equipment, but your community can probably get this story done for you better than you can do it yourself. You have to know about legislators and developers whose policy out of ignorance or avarice is likely to do harm to birds and wildlife because of environmental encroachment or pollution. You, or your network weaver, have to bring your community together both online and in person so they can bond around their passion and build social and informational capital with you being the supreme information gathering facilitator and producer. Thanks to you now each of them is getting $100 a year worth of new information that without you they would not get from another source, plus each of them feels, as a community member, he or she is partly responsible for all this new knowledge production.

Now imagine in this Representative Journalism world that there is also another birding Representative Journalist in southern Georgia and another in coastal Georgia and one over in Alabama and another in North Carolina and once each Representative Journalism community member pays his or her $100, he or she  gets information  from their individual Representative Journalist and all the news from the other Representative Journalism birding writers too. And in fact from every Representative Journalist everywhere in every area of coverage. Each a high preforming writer, researcher, expert riding on the informational shoulders of his  or her community.

Could you find a community of 1,000 who would pay for that, I say yes.  

4 Responses to “Only Journalists with Value Need Apply”

  1. David Cohn Says:

    I think you hit it right on the mark. Your next post on Doc Searls I think also touches on part of this: What is the added value that journalists will have in this form of journalism? They will be experts on a topic — making money off the work they do and because of the work that they’ve done.

  2. Leonard Witt Says:

    Hi David:

    In my next post I want to advance the idea that a journalist by truly adding to the body of knowledge on a given subject, not just reporting what others say, can become a national expert without needing to move on to a national publication.

  3. Representative Journalism - Blog - Another Voice on Improving Reports’ Value Says:

    [...] like what I have been trying to say about raising the value of journalists. I will add to that in the next couple of days. One planned blog will be aimed at making local [...]

  4. Representative Journalism - Blog - Finding National Stars to Cover the Hyperlocal Says:

    [...] Robert Picard as my touchstone, earlier I wrote that too many journalists lack value. They are all but cogs in a machine.  However, my idea of a [...]

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    Leonard Witt

    Leonard Witt is the Robert D. Fowler Distinguished Chair in Communication at Kennesaw State University and the chief blogger at

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