Practical workflow for journalism

Photo by o_bbiond on Flickr

The Associated Press is touting something they call “1-2-3 filing.” It reminds me of Bloomberg’s model (developed, what, 20 years ago?) and more recently, the BBC News online method. But derivative or not, it makes darned good sense. AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll explained the new model at the World Association of Newspapers conference on June 2.

Called “1-2-3 filing,” it starts with a news alert headline for breaking news, followed by a short present-tense story predominantly for the Web and broadcasters. The third step is to add details and format stories in ways most appropriate for different news platforms.

“I can’t emphasize to you the importance of present tense both in the newsroom and for the end user. It’s very much about news that is happening. It gives the news a sense of immediacy,” Carroll said. “The 3 then can become any number of things: a longer story, a multimedia presentation or nothing at all.”

“The 3” is what makes this really, really smart — it is an acknowledgment that some stories are finished after the brief is filed. It acknowledges that many stories do not ever warrant “a longer story” (yes! yes! yes!). And best of all, it recognizes that sometimes there is something better than a written story.

That is, some stories are better told without prose, without narrative, without text.

A study commissioned by the AP showed that young adults have profoundly different news consumption patterns from previous generations.

“People don’t walk out to the driveway to collect their newspaper. They open their e-mail,” Jim Kennedy, AP’s director of strategic planning, said in presenting the study. (Same source as above.)

I think a lot of newspaper editors get the idea of filing quickly for the Web site and having no set deadlines — often this idea is embodied in a thing called “the continuous news desk.” But what old-fashioned editors might fail to realize is that filing briefs is just treading water — merely keeping yourself afloat. If your online entity is to move forward, you need to start living and breathing “the 3.” You need to swim, and swim strong.

I think every morning the editors ought to sit down and ask what the site had yesterday that people would want to e-mail to their friends. What would the public discuss? What would they show to their colleagues? If you didn’t have some stuff that would make people say, “Look at this!”, then you’re not doing it right.

I don’t mean “Look at this!” just because it’s titillating. People say “Look at this!” because it’s new, it’s unexpected, it’s interesting. I will say it about a video, a photograph, an animated graphic, an interactive map. I will not often say it about a written story. (Sometimes, yes. But not often!)

I’m not suggesting that the newsroom should produce multimedia about every story that crosses anyone’s desk. That’s not the idea of 1-2-3. One story in 10, or 1 in 20 — or maybe even fewer stories — might warrant “the 3.” Newsrooms (and everyone in them) need to start assessing and measuring which stories those are.

Strategies, criteria, audience — quit throwing spaghetti against the wall and start talking about how to reach the other side of the Olympic-size swimming pool.

7 Comments on “Practical workflow for journalism

  1. This method isn’t just for Journalists, either, it’s worth thinking about for anyone who publishes. @gruber on Twitter constantly posts little thoughts and tidbits. Some make it in a fuller, more fleshed-out form as an article on Daring Fireball, and others don’t. But the consistent stream of info gives you a kind of “back-story” and a fuller connection to his writing.

  2. Yes, but there are downsides to the 1,2,3 workflow. Often steps 1 and 2 leave gaping holes, or worse, they introduce misinformation.

    How about just going straight to step 3 with good, accurate information and multimedia or alternative story format elements to help the reader actually understand the subject? The obsession with providing the freshest information and getting out in front often just pollutes the information stream.

  3. Great! Now the print media can become just as vapid as TV networks such as Fox and CNN….i’d much rather read a well-written, insightful story than watch some video about it thats two-minutes long and says not much (sure, viral animal videos are fun — but those are the bulk of what we’re talking about here.)….there’s a reason people rely on newspapers and not television — eliminate all the crappy updates and dumb dailies that editors assign and start producing stuff that people would never learn about otherwise…..

  4. It’s true that text is generally the most complete format. In other words, if you want to tell every detail and cover every aspect, probably you need text. Or a two-hour documentary video.

    Given the practice of journalism, we very rarely have the complete story. You know, it’s “the first draft of history.”

    Writing a book usually takes a year or more.

    The typical story about political corruption, for example, unfolds over time. Journalists share what they know, when they know it, whenever they can get verification.

    Bit by bit.

  5. It’s sad that people like “espresso 2008” jump to extremes when talking about journalism in the 21st century. Why can’t newspapers use their superior talent, expertise, resources and credibility to tell stories in the most appropriate ways possible? If we don’t stop acting like the options are 1) Write really long, dense stories or 2) Become a TV station, we’ll never be able to adapt.

  6. Hi Mindy,
    The AP’s new “1-2-3” system reminds me of the Bloomberg method as well. And there are many reasons why I think that’s a great thing.
    But here’s what I think are the most important:
    1. We know that the Bloomberg method works — for decades now the company has been making money and dominating the news in its space by providing headlines, first takes and updates in an electronic format.
    2. I’ve spent much of the past few years trying to get journalists to understand the Bloomberg system and adopt some version of it for their Web sites. And the objection I’ve heard hundreds of times now is some variation of “that’s not how AP does it.” Now that AP has finally seen the light, perhaps the rest of journalism will as well.

  7. Pingback: Teaching Online Journalism » MVPs for June 2008

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