The Business of Writing – Online

by Lewis DVorkin and Forbes, Inc.

This chapter is a free excerpt from The Forbes Model For Journalism In The Digital Age.

For the longest time, I felt news was a calling. Report the facts. Cultivate your sources. Uncover information. Write the story for the public good. Journalism was – and still largely remains – a top-down, one-to-many business, with the same “voice of God” formula that one TV executive vowed to do away with but never did. I still see it as a calling, though I must admit to some cynicism after 35 plus years doing this. But I’ve definitely shed my arrogant journalistic upbringing. Today, I believe digital news is like the Web itself – that is, a transactional affair.

The Web is the ultimate marketplace, where goods and services – as well as news, information and ideas – are exchanged. The medium’s effectiveness has been pretty clear for commerce, especially with the arrival of Google AdSense. Advertisers feel the potential, too. The Web’s impact on the news media is not dissimilar. Sure, traditional news media can stimulate a response, but the response is discontinuous – it requires a separate channel, such as the Postal Service or an 800 number – and it’s never permitted to have equal weight. The Web is a channel that both stimulates and fulfills. It’s one and the same because its tools help to blur the line between sellers (that includes journalists) and buyers (that includes news consumers).

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For the longest time, I felt news was a calling. Report the facts. Cultivate your sources. Uncover information. Write the story for the public good. Journalism was – and still largely remains – a top-down, one-to-many business, with the same “voice of God” formula that one TV executive vowed to do away with but never did. I still see it as a calling, though I must admit to some cynicism after 35 plus years doing this. But I’ve definitely shed my arrogant journalistic upbringing. Today, I believe digital news is like the Web itself – that is, a transactional affair.

The Web is the ultimate marketplace, where goods and services – as well as news, information and ideas – are exchanged. The medium’s effectiveness has been pretty clear for commerce, especially with the arrival of Google AdSense. Advertisers feel the potential, too. The Web’s impact on the news media is not dissimilar. Sure, traditional news media can stimulate a response, but the response is discontinuous – it requires a separate channel, such as the Postal Service or an 800 number – and it’s never permitted to have equal weight. The Web is a channel that both stimulates and fulfills. It’s one and the same because its tools help to blur the line between sellers (that includes journalists) and buyers (that includes news consumers).

Now, journalism is not commerce and it’s not advertising. But no longer is the journalist addressing the abstract notion of “the reader.” On the Web, the author connects one at a time with individual readers, right down to the IP address. That means journalists now must engage, or “transact,” accordingly.

Along with the declining influence of the portals and the rise of social media, digital news is now in the hands of everyone, not an elite few. This does not at all negate our (mine, too) rich heritage. In fact, the demand for what we do is stronger than ever. Journalists simply need to get in tune with their audience, which is really what our business is all about, and we need to draw on our heritage to effectively practice transactional journalism.

This all became much clearer to me after we released a new Forbes article page in August 2011 – a template for authoritative news in this unfolding era of social media. It was further reinforced when we added a comment strip under a post’s headline to show the avatars of readers whose remarks had been Called Out. Our article page had put the journalist – or the topic-specific expert – at the very center of a community of followers, particularly those the journalist had transacted with.

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