10 Reasons Why Online Journalists Are Better Journalists (In Theory)

1. We’re fighting to still be here
All the on-the-fence journalists have left the field, leaving behind the few, the passionate and the dedicated — as well as those who are just plain bewildered. But they’ll figure it out soon enough. The new new (new?) journalist can’t be the grumpy introvert of yore, but an engaged member of the community, and an energetic entrepreneur. And while newspaper journalists would say they weren’t in it for the money… we could really make that our catchphrase. Online news is still figuring out how to pay for itself, and hiring journalists is a substantial investment in a world where information is largely free.

2. We have to be more useful
We’re providing more information and more background, but keeping it to the point. Because users won’t read a long story, we have to be better at determining the most important points, presenting them succinctly and knowing when to stop. We then offer you a choice to delve more deeply, if you want, by including links, PDFs, photo galleries, videos and a whole host of other assets for you to explore or ignore.

3. We’re paying attention to what people want
Online newsmakers can see — in real time — how many people are reading our stories, how important those stories are, and who thinks so. Being a successful journalist means paying attention to those numbers and responding to what people want and need, rather than what we think they want and need or — worse — what we think they should want and need.

4. We’re ditching the “he said, she said”
Inserting a quote in between every paragraph to support the former or upcoming statement is a dead practice. No one was reading what was in between the quotation marks anyway, but skipping over it instead, and now all the supporting quotes are provided after the story has been published — by you, dropping your thoughts into the comments box.

5. We’re getting out from behind our computers
The most important stories take what’s offline and put it online for the first time. The web is flooded with stories, and different versions of stories, that were found online in the first place. Anyone can re-post a YouTube video of a riot, but someone has to film the original. We want to be that person.

6. We’re better writers
SEO will not allow us to write vague headlines or use bad puns, and we only have the attention our audience for about three blinks, so we have to practice all of George Orwell’s 5 Rules for Effective Writing at once.

7. We’re everywhere at once
Thanks to Wifi and 4G, we’re posting updates and pictures directly from the field, while still on scene talking to officials and community members. In fact, if you’re quick enough, you could send us an email or tweet a question and we can try to answers while we’re reporting. There you have it: news on demand.

8. We’re held accountable — immediately
Is there an error in the story we just published? We’ll know about it in… oh, let’s say 30 seconds after we tweet it.

9. We’ve got to be better than the competition
Anyone with an email address can publish information and most are doing it for free. We’ve got to be quicker, better, clearer and more reliable than everyone else on the Internet.

10. We’re providing a service that is more valuable than it has ever been
We’re Internet users too, and know that the only cure for information overload is intelligent curation and efficient navigation. We’re grateful to those who do it well, and strive to be of service likewise. At the same time, we’re also playing our part in trying to figure out how this whole industry is going to work and who’s going to pay for it — and to do that we have to adhere to everything listed above.

Agree? Disagree? I’ll see you in the comment stream below.

About Emily Henry

Emily Henry hails from the rural "green belt" skirting London, and is a roving editor for Patch.com in the San Francisco East Bay. She has a journalism master's degree from USC, and specializes in hyper-local news, social justice journalism and creative non-fiction.