The [Los Angeles] Times newsroom — and, for that matter, the entire news business — needs to be totally reorganized to revolve around three skill sets.
The first and most basic set is technological. Most journalists of my era and earlier know little about things such as data mining and geotagging. This is technology that, in the right hands, can be used to monitor and analyze communities and make it possible to dramatically expand the reach of reporting deep into those communities. Public records can be mined for information about everything from health outcomes to real estate transactions.
The second skill set—and the one that is more important than ever—is the ability of the journalist to report and analyze. Raw data can be interesting, but it assumes value when a skilled journalist uses reporting to turn it into credible knowledge or insight.
Data can tell you which hospital in Los Angeles has the best outcomes for heart surgery. But it takes reporting and editing to tell you why that hospital is best. Does it excel because it has top-quality physicians, more specialized nurses, certain best practices, or what? Those are the kinds of questions that journalists know how to probe and answer.
The third skill set is social media experience. Newsrooms need experts in social media to determine who in the community wants this journalist-enhanced data and how best to get it to them. Social media experts can also help connect journalists directly to the community, bring others—be they bloggers or citizens—into the conversation, and promote the kind of honesty and standards that makes for distinguished journalism.
James O’Shea, editor of the Chicago News Cooperative and former editor of the Los Angeles Times. Nieman Reports, Community Outreach