Thursday, November 04, 2010

Somewhere shy of 100 percent

As promised, a full blog post on Jay Rosen's suggestion, "The 100 percent solution."

"It works like this: First, you set a goal to cover 100 percent of… well, of something. In trying to reach the goal you immediately run into problems. To solve those problems you often have to improvise or innovate. And that’s the payoff, even if you don’t meet your goal," he writes.

My first thought, of course, was, "How can I apply this? What would this mean for me?" I cover Coatesville, PA, the only city in my county, which has been described as a scale version of Philadelphia, or Chester in Delaware County. In my spare time (?) I cover the surrounding municipalities as well.

I'd love to cover 100 percent of what is happening in Coatesville. To me, that means reporting on council, the school district, the Weed and Seed program and new community initiatives, the church community, and the youth element, among others. (The last draws my interest because there's a lot of concern about crime and drugs in the city, and many complain the youth culture both is vulnerable to those problems, and ends up perpetuating them for lack of things to do.)

But I'm one person, and still a rookie at that. How could I possibly cover everything going on in even one of those areas, much less all of them?

Jay mentions two papers in my cluster with the Journal Register Company (for which he is an advisory board member): the Reporter in Lansdale, PA and the Trentonian in Trenton, NJ. And in the examples he gives, teamwork makes a huge difference.

There are multiple people involved on the newspaper end, which in a newsroom shrunk by the economic crisis isn't likely to be an option for me. However, the kinds of crowdsourcing that he describes just might be.

There are already people who contact me with tips, of course. But there's a lot of conversation that happens on Facebook and on Twitter that I might be able to tap into.

Also, despite a deep distrust of the Daily Local News by many city residents (who feel that the Local has targeted the community and exploits its problems to sell papers), I believe there are people who would actively contribute information if I coordinated it - and that I might even be able to win over some of the city in the process.

One major criticism is that the paper doesn't cover enough positive events in the city. It's true that I am not able to attend and write an article about every festival and awards ceremony, or even every community meeting. But I'm happy to collate information that's passed to me...and I think it might be time to make seeking that info a priority.

For example, despite a strained relationship with the school district, I think there's a good chance that I can work with high school students interested in journalism - we already tried that with a program called "iJournalists," but there's no reason I can't seek something a little more community-specific. And members of the Weed and Seed committees are already extremely active in the community, and anxious to get the word out about their efforts.

Would this, if successful, constitute a "100 percent solution"? I'm not sure. From reading the post, though, it seems that despite the name, that's not really the point. The point is innovation. I've hesitated often due to my "rookie" status, but the fact is, I've been testing the limits of internet communication since I was 13 - maybe not to the level of a programmer, but in a lot of ways, that means I have more in common with the average reader.

Sometimes it seems like the bigwigs in journalism are trying to turn the sticky helm of a very big ship, and sometimes I get caught up in that. Don't get me wrong - institutional knowledge of journalism is absolutely invaluable. And traditional journalism, after all, has given me a start and a platform, and print is still the company's biggest source of revenue.

But one question that has been a touchstone for me for the last two years has been, "What would I do if I were starting a media company from scratch?" Thinking that way is, to me, the difference between starting from possibilities and starting from limitations. Turning the ship isn't my gig.

What do you think? If you were to start a media company tomorrow, what would you prioritize? Would the idea of 100 percent coverage inform your strategy, or do you think it's irrelevant?

1 comment:

Jim said...

Goals should never be met, for if they are met, it only proves they were too low, or otherwise inadequate. The journey is more important than the destination. We learn, we grow, we discover wisdom along the way--if we are lucky. The point is to be able to ask better questions, not provide answers, as the answers will almost always be wrong--or simply provisionally accurate. For these reasons, a goal of merely 100% is useless, as it presumes we already can perceive the entire scope of that which we are attempting to accomplish. So, at very least, our goal should be 110%--if only to symbolically acknowledge that we're not even at the stage where we can pose the right question--in it's entirety. We don't really know what we don't know, but we can admit that we know this much...