Jurnos

What’s a jurno? It’s a Webcentric journalist. In 2002, they were called “backpack journalists”. At that time, in new-media land, a debate raged over whether backpack journalists would ever be the norm. Here’s a graph from an article I wrote in OJR.org in 2002 in defense of backpack journalists (I’d been one since 1996):

deathvalleyly

1998: In Death Valley for Discovery Channel

So, in a few years, backpack journalists – or at least those who are familiar with backpack and converged journalism – will not only be the rule, they’ll rule. And rock. Just as news organizations made the transition from typewriters and hot type to computers and pagination over the last 20 years, convergence and multimedia will change the face, heart, and guts of newsrooms over the next 20 years. These days, can you imagine hiring a reporter who doesn’t know how to use a computer? In 10 years, you won’t grok hiring a reporter who can’t slide across media, either.

2002. That was nearly seven years ago, ancient history in Webworld. Blogger was only three years old, Wikipedia had been on the scene for a year. Technorati came seven months later, followed by Photobucket and MySpace. Flickr, Facebook and Digg appeared in 2004, followed by YouTube and Ning in 2005, Twitter in 2006, and Tumblr in 2007.

It didn’t take 10 years for reporters to need “backpack” skills to find a job. Now, they also need to know how to build community and navigate around the social network. Entrepreneurial jurnos need to know a whole lot more. There are quite a few folks out there who still think that if you acquire a few skills, you’ll be fine. Not so. Skills won’t do much good if you don’t understand nature of the Web. If you do, you’ll have a better shot at evaluating how new developments fit into what a jurno does, or how a jurno fits into them. The Web’s just at the teething stage. There are LOTS of changes coming in the next 10 years.

What a jurno needs to work in Webworld:

[Assuming that a jurno already has journalism skills and ethics...]

1. How to think and speak Web, i.e., understanding the nature, the characteristics of the Web.

2. How to do video, grab or take still photos, get good audio, write, create a Google map mashup.

3. How to decide when to use which medium, including when to use graphics, databases, and games.

4. How to work in a team, with a Web graphics expert, a database programmer and a community manager.

5. How to blog a beat.

6. How to put together a complex multimedia story.

7. How to create a Web shell for a topic.

8. How to define and manage a community — virtually, including via mobile phones, and face-to-face.

9. How to distribute content to other social networks, including Facebook, MySpace, Flickr and Twitter.

10. For entrepreneurial journalists, how to create a place for people within the community who want to sell products and services, sell the site’s services to those people, and market the site to the immediate and extended community.

This is how a jurno does her/his job:

1. Defines the geographical or topic-based community that the jurno will serve.

2. Develops and manages the Web shell for that community, which includes content from the community (blogs, discussions, wikis, aggregators), the blog, the iconic complex storytelling, databases, resources, and links. In other words, makes the site the go-to place for the community.

3. Blogs the beat. (In Webworld, the blog replaces the 12- to 15-inch daily story or the 30- to 60-second TV or radio spot.)

4. Takes a contextual and continuous approach to covering the beat, i.e., emphasizes reporting from the data. Another way to put it: evidence-based reporting (like evidence-based medicine). An example: on a local health site, focuses the bulk of the content on the issues affecting the local population, instead of throwing a lot of energy at a disease-of-the-week that may not come within 500 miles of the community, such as West Nile virus.

5. Does solution-oriented reporting…follows through on an issue until it is resolved. This doesn’t mean a jurno offers solutions. It means that the jurno provides a “map” of all the participants who are responsible or who are working on solving a community issue, identifies the community’s goals, provides information from and links to other communities that have solved similar issues, and keeps tabs on whether the community is achieving its goal.

6. Serves the community in the jurno roles of fact-checker, watchdog, storyteller, and investigative reporter.

A caveat: In a large organization — such as the New York Times, USA Today, Washington Post, NPR — the role of a journalist is still, and will be for a while longer, more narrowly defined — i.e., there’s still a place for people who only write, or who only do radio. These organizations move slower, and probably have enough financial padding to make a slower transition to Webworld.

Where do jurnos work?

Locally, in small entrepreneurial teams that serve a small geographic or topic-based (e.g., local health, local growth & development, local transportation, local environment, local work) community. These can be supported by advertisers in that community, by residents or participants in that community, or by outside funders. Examples: Baristanet.com, WestSeattleblog.com.

OR

In larger groups that cover a topic nationally. Examples: Marketwatch, Politico, Grist.

OR

In semi-independent beat- or topic-based entrepreneurial pods within a traditional news organization that’s making the transition from print, TV or radio to Webworld.

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