20 March 2008

Four Roles For Newspapers In Digital Era

To thrive in the digital age newspapers need to adopt four editorial voices, says a US academic.

Bill Densmore from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst asserts that 21st-century news providers have four roles – that of navigator, valet, referee and coach.

Navigator - Finds

According to Densmore, this is the first key role and involves helping visitors to your website find the information they need in order to become “participatory citizens”.

“The editor’s role is less and less defined by choosing which information to leave out, and more and more by what information to highlight.”

Valet – Recommends

This second role centres on the idea that the news media in the digital age provide a service rather than simply a product.

“And that’s a fundamental change in thinking - from making a product - the newspaper - to providing a service - the trusted, customised information home-base for your readers, users, viewers and listeners.”

Referee – Facilitates Community

This third role takes into account the growth of user-generated content and suggests that newspapers should take up the role of refereeing these virtual participants.

“You can watch the cacophony and help players to find constructive roles.

“You can take note of offsides, illegal touching and rule infractions (where rules exist!) in the discussion.

“It’s a critical role, and one you are institutionally suited to play.”

Coach – Builds Community

Densmore contends that the Web has changed the landscape so much that users now expect advice as well as impartial information from their newspapers.

“My own view is that publishers who want to survive in the new participatory culture are going to have to revert back to the 19th-century form and be willing to coach and lead their users – openly – to active participation in civic life, in the discussions of the public sphere.”

More Info

Densmore presented his ideas during a recent speech to newspaper editors as part of the Knight Digital Media Center’s seminar series entitled “Best Practices: Editorial and Commentary in Cyberspace”.

The edited text of the speech with ideas on how to implement the four editorial voices can be found in this pdf file.

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