i-c547572fe7c661b273a1b2ce571ced2a-Working press at World Series.jpg

Every time I sit down to write an in-depth story for MediaShift, I start getting that same sinking feeling: I’m missing something. Did someone else already write this story? Did I talk to all the right people? Did those people tell me everything I should know? Are my assumptions and story angle sound? Did I get all sides of the story?

I’d like to explore new ways of doing story generation, reporting and follow-up, using the tools of online collaboration and going beyond traditional shoe-leather reporting. I don’t want to throw out the old style but build on it, taking the best of the new and the old to create something more open and more collaborative. In that spirit, I am outlining three basic flows: old-school reporting workflow (pre-Internet); current reporting; and a new-school method that imagines more people engaged online.

The Way It Was

1. Assignment editor or reporter comes up with an idea. The idea might come from someone calling the newsroom or sending a letter, or from a press release, or from other media stories that could use another angle. The story might also come out of the reporter’s own everyday life experience.

2. The idea is brought up at an editorial meeting, discussed by editors and reporters, and given the green light to go forward.

3. The reporter does basic research for the story by checking the newspaper morgue, viewing old TV footage, or finding archival radio reports. The reporter would also contact regular sources to find out what they know. If the story relates to a place, the reporter could visit that place and get a feel for it.

4. The reporter interviews people involved in the story, experts, analysts and other observers or participants to gather as much information as possible.

5. The reporter checks in along the way with an editor to make sure the story is on the right track and nothing is missing.

6. The reporter collects all material, including research, transcribed interviews and editor feedback, and takes out the best and most relevant quotes for the story.

7. The reporter writes the story using that material, and turns it into the editor, going back and making changes until a finished story can be run. The story goes into print, onto TV or radio.

8. Readers or story participants respond by calling the newsroom or writing letters, causing corrections or follow-ups for the story.

The Way It Is

1. Assignment editor or reporter comes up with an idea. The idea might come from someone calling the newsroom or emailing, or from a press release, or from other media stories or blog posts that could use another angle or more depth. The idea might also come from online forums or comments on other news stories, or it could come from a reporter’s everyday experience, or from his/her own experience blogging on that subject.

2. The idea is brought up at an editorial meeting, discussed by editors and reporters, and given the green light to go forward.

3. The reporter does basic research for the story by going online and using search engines and seeing what else has been written on the subject in other media outlets and specialized blogs. The reporter also contacts regular sources to find out what they know. If the story relates to a place, the reporter might visit that place and get a feel for it.

4. The reporter interviews people involved in the story, experts, analysts and other observers or participants to gather as much information as possible. That might include emails, phone calls or in-person interviews.

5. The reporter checks in along the way with an editor to make sure the story is on the right track and nothing is missing.

6. The reporter collects all material, including research, transcribed interviews, links to related blog posts, and editor feedback, and takes out the best and most relevant quotes for the story. Sometimes, the reporter also prepares unedited transcripts, audio and video to post online as additional material for the story.

7. The reporter writes the story using that material, and turns it into the editor, going back and making changes until a finished story can be run. The story goes online, into print, onto TV or radio.

8. Readers or story participants respond by emailing or calling the newsroom, by leaving comments beneath the story online or writing thoughts on their own blogs, causing corrections or follow-ups for the story.

The Way It Will Be

1. Ideas come from a community or social network set up specifically for that reporter’s beat. This community includes important sources, experts and various people with specialized knowledge of the subject. (See Beatblogging for an early experiment in this.) The reporter might run weekly “Idea Log” posts on his/her blog, listing story ideas and asking for feedback from interested readers. Reporters might also poll interested readers to have them vote up or down possible story ideas, or have them contribute payments or “reader miles” (earned by participation) for stories they would like to see.

Alternatively, an assignment editor or reporter comes up with an idea. The idea might come from someone calling the newsroom or emailing, or from a press release, or from other media stories or blog posts that could use another angle or more depth. The idea might also come from online forums or comments on other news stories, or it could come from a reporter’s everyday experience.

2. The idea is vetted by the reporter’s social network, who help decide whether it is worthy of more research. On the reporter’s blog, the idea might be fleshed out with more feedback from interested readers. The idea is brought up at an editorial meeting, discussed by editors and reporters, and given the green light to go forward. That green light would also take into account early interest from the reporter’s blog readers and social network.

3. The reporter does basic research for the story by going online and using search engines and seeing what else has been written on the subject in other media outlets and specialized blogs. The reporter sets up a wiki, where interested readers and sources can help shape the story as it goes along. The reporter also contacts regular sources to find out what they know. If the story relates to a place, the reporter could visit that place and get a feel for it.

4. The reporter interviews people involved in the story, experts, analysts and other observers or participants to gather as much information as possible. The sources would include suggestions made by the social network or from earlier blog posts on the subject. The interviews might take place via emails, phone calls or in-person.

5. The reporter checks in along the way with an editor to make sure the story is on the right track and nothing is missing. The reporter also updates his/her blog as well as the social network to make sure the story isn’t missing anything.

6. The reporter collects all material, including research, transcribed interviews, links to related blog posts, and editor feedback, and takes out the best and most relevant quotes for the story. The reporter also prepares unedited transcripts, audio and video to post online as additional material for the story. Possibly, the reporter can give this unedited material to the sources to check and post on their own websites or blogs, with the proviso that they will link to the final story.

7. The reporter writes the story using that material, and turns it into the editor, going back and making changes until a finished story can be run. The story goes online, into print, onto TV or radio and into a wiki, where people can make changes with editorial oversight.

8. Readers or story participants respond by emailing or calling the newsroom, by leaving comments beneath the story online, causing corrections or follow-ups for the story. The story wiki is open to editing — with oversight — forever, allowing updates, corrections, links to outside sources and more.

I’d like to invite you to add to these points, sharing your own experiences for “The Way It Is” and also sharing your hopes and ideas for “The Way It Will Be.” Please include them in the comments below and I’ll update the lists above.

Photo of press box at Fenway Park during 2007 World Series by misconmike via Flickr.