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Columbia Missourian

Readers, editors are starting to define a new relationship

By Tom Warhover, Executive editor
June 15, 2007 | 2:00 a.m. CDT
Tom Warhover is the Columbia Missourian's executive editor for innovation.

I’ve talked about it before in this space: that you, dear reader, are forcing my profession and your newspaper to re-examine just about everything.

You could say, “It’s the technology, stupid,” but that’s just a bunch of wires and ones and zeroes. The change is in what the technology enables you to do.

Consider this column, for instance. It fits the classic reflex of journalism. Tom, the top editor, speaks to the many. (OK, so I have an ego. I’m hoping more than four or five of you actually read this.) You can write back, of course, but rarely do.

In other words, I provide you with information I think you need or want. That’s my job, right?

Not any more. Providing information I think you need is just one of my jobs, one narrow definition of journalism.

Many of you have asked for another relationship with your print and digital information sources.

You vote through your fingers when you decide to learn about your community through sources as varied as MySpace profiles, YouTube videos or your local neighborhood news association Web site. You demand a different story of journalism when you find your son’s Little League schedule through search engines. It looks like the Reds and the Rockies play Monday in the Daniel Boone Little League, Pee Wee division, by the way. You pass along your own stories when you blog on your family’s Web site — my nephew is the administrator for warhover.org.

So what is the new compact between the Missourian and you, dear reader?

The old one might be described this way: We’ll tell you what you need. The new compact needs to be based on a different relationship.

Most of the Missourian’s top editors will be out of the office next week, grappling with the question that’s preoccupied them for some time now. I don’t expect miracle answers so much as a collective understanding, some concrete next steps and some ideas about how to better listen to the lessons of you and our community.

Don’t worry, though. You’ll also see your newspaper on your home screens and front porches just like any other week. Managing Editor Reuben Stern has rounded up a terrific bunch of journalists to direct the regular reporters, editors and photographers. If some big disaster strikes, the staff is nearby. This Walden Pond is off the blacktop and just down the lane a bit.