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Policinski: ‘We need people in the creativity business’

I enjoyed hearing veteran journalist Gene Policinski of the Newseum Institute talk about “The Future of Principles” at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., last month.

IMG_2916Policinski, chief operating officer of the Newseum Institute and its First Amendment Center, gave the keynote address at “A Capital Event,” a one-day conference by the American Society of Journalists and Authors.

Here are my takeaways from Policinski:


On news today

  1. People are consuming news as they never have before. Now they get it faster and from more sources.
  2. Because so much now comes so fast, many people choose to get their news “from one side or the other.” So they can no longer turn the page and find a story they didn’t expect.
  3. Since 2008, the number of Americans listening to podcasts has doubled.

On the changing role of journalists

  1. The news is no longer, “Hey, have you heard about X?” The tweet will tell people what happened. Writers need to tell them how, and why does it matter to me, and what’s next.
  2. A journalist’s biggest competitor is an algorithm, a mechanical newsgathering process that produces something close to a story. But what does it mean? And what do I do with it? That has to come from people.
  3. When you print from the firehouse of the Internet, you have to find a way to make sense of it.

On challenges for writers

  1. When we talk about changes at newspapers, we talk about the missing classifieds, but we don’t talk much about the missing power of journalists to hold government and private institutions accountable for their actions. People aren’t afraid when reporters come into the room because there aren’t reporters coming into the room. We need to grab that back. The public doesn’t realize it is losing the independent press.
  2. The inverted pyramid came about after the telegraph was invented. Now we’re moving into an era where news is more conversational, so writers must develop a more conversational style. All of us want to have a conversation because we want to feel intimately connected. We’ve gone from the village green to the village screen.
  3. Writers will be challenged by what people are clicking on, not by conventional metrics.

Some advice for writers

  1. Never say, “I do freelance.” Instead, say, “I do creativity. I do thinking.” We need people in the creativity business – people who look for the how, and the why, and the what’s next – people with the ability to interpret the data.
  2. Most writers used to be generalists. But in today’s world, the key to success – particularly if you are your own enterprise – is to find a niche.
  3. If an industry expert says, “Here’s one view, and that’s the best knowledge we have,” now you can use technology to crowdsource that out, get other views and challenge the industry to catch up. That’s our future.