What is the one thing you would change about the news industry?

In my last post, I wrote about problems in the news industry. Today, I’m shifting my focus to solutions. And because, as Dan Gillmor is so fond of saying, our readers are smarter than we are, I threw this question out to folks via my Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn profiles:

What’s the one thing that you would change in the news industry, if you had the power to make that happen?

I found it interesting that I got just two responses from women. One, from a professional opera singer whom I know from our high school choir (yes, she was much, much, much better than I), who quoted Dragnet’s Sgt. Joe Friday: “Just the facts, ma’am.” The second came from a 3rd-level LinkedIn user I do not know, who recommended that newspapers charge for content online.

If nothing else, I take from this lesson that males in our field remain more comfortable spouting off their two-bit (or 140 character) opinions. :-) Thank you to everyone who responded.

Several respondents looked toward the business side of the industry…

Steve Buttry:

Swift pursuit of mobile opportunities for revenue, content and community connection, as I’ve outlined in the links below. We are not too late to seize this opportunity, but we are moving too slowly.

News companies need to help local businesses pursue mobile opportunities
A Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection
Community-content opportunities: Driving

Barry Parr:

More imagination in advertising models.

You could make the argument that the editorial side of the house is doing a pretty good job.

But, until the guys on the business side figure out how to make money on the Web, they’re going to continue to thrash around with business models built on artificial scarcity. Newspapers forgot how to *sell* advertising decades ago.

…others looked toward management.

K. Paul Mallasch wrote:

The power structures that own it. I want to set up many owners instead of few owners …

Ken O’Quinn:

I would like to see more veritable journalists in key positions in media companies. Even if all newspapers cease to exist and all news is online, at least we could be confident in the quality of the news we received and in the quality of the reporting and writing.

What passes for news judgment today is at times embarrassing, and it’s often not the reporter who is to blame. Corporate executives who don’t know a well-written story from a grocery list exert too much influence over newsroom decisions.

Steve Outing:

Force many of the CEOs to retire; let next generation figure out the answers.

The following correspondent’s point gnaws at me, since I am such a lousy dresser.

Ken Martin:

This may seem trivial and aimed at the televison media however I think too many reporters are dressing down or thinking everyday is casual Friday. Women wearing sleeve less outfits and men without a jacket and tie. I’m a firm believer in clothes make the person. I miss the good ole days of when you knew who the professionals were just by looking at them.

Other people who responded to my inquiry wanted to see an attitude adjustment within the industry.

Dorian Benkoil:

I would replace arrogance with wonder.

Michael Conniff:

The discussion of journalism as if we are only talking of the highest quality, when so much is mediocre, biased, or worse.

And, finally, my favorite response, for its brevity and enthusiasm:

Bart Brouwers


So I will close today’s piece with my suggestion, which follows Bart’s nicely, I believe:

Insist that reporters have either professional or academic expertise in the beat that they cover. Simply knowing such sources isn’t good enough anymore, not with professionals having direct access to the public through blogs and discussion forums. Journalists must have the expertise to help the reader sort the accurate from the incorrect. If all we do is repeating what others say, readers won’t need us anymore. They can use Google and social media to find those sources for themselves.

Let me be clear that journalists must rely on empirical evidence, rather than ideology, to guide them toward determining truth. If you want to take your cues from Fox News and shills such as Matt Drudge, that is your choice, but I have no help for you.

Please join me next Wednesday on OJR, when I interview online news entrepreneur Howard Owens about his journey from major newspaper chains to running his own local news website.

About Robert Niles

Robert Niles is the former editor of OJR, and no longer associated with the site. You may find him now at http://www.sensibletalk.com.


  1. Tom Grubisich says:

    I agree with K Paul. Current MSM ownerships are a straitjacket. Sometimes the straitjacket is loosened, but just a bit, and to scant positive effect. Look at how newspapers and their websites have failed to exploit the health-care-reform issue. Health care is a local issue, and newspapers, for all their staff cutbacks, still have the resources to cover local issues. But with health care, they just didn’t…care.

    The news business needs entrepreneurs who will not be constricted by legacy thinking. But entrepreneurs have to be smart about knowing, embracing and engaging the community. Doing all this takes passionate commitment, for starters. But entrepreneurs who make the effort can push aside the MSM preservationists.

  2. I agree with this article. One thing I would really like to change is the censorship. I am living in the USA currently but I am originally from Bangladesh, and when I read and see there news it is completely different. The same issues are shown fully in Bangladesh compared to the US. I don’t think this is right, i believe if USA news showed more of the sadness in each story, then the public would not like it and take action. This needs to be changed.

  3. says:

    Aww heck, let’s go for three.

    In small town journalism, stories with at least a bit of factchecking. I went to our congressman’s health care bill townhall meeting on Friday, which was covered by 3 or 4 others, and factchecking so far has been absent. Our MSM basically reported emotional tone, respective decibels of respective factions, a pro quote or two, an anti quote or two, and a congressman quote or two; a Commentator gave a Pravda-style report; and I’m looking into some assertions made to see where they come from.
    (thus it would seem that my report will be the most valuable; but this is hardly a foregone conclusion, since theirs *are* already published while mine is still vaporware)

    And ditto to KPaul’s “many owners”.