The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

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January 24, 2006

‘Lower your shields...’

This month, as Brendan and I and the other staffers map out our roles in this organization and get a feel for the administrative side of this enterprise, I am seizing this time as an opportunity to step back from the reporting process itself and think more philosophically about my job – and journalism in general. I wish more reporters engaged in this type of reflection (or displayed evidence of it in their work!).

The current collective members have only formally met as a group a handful of times, but we’ve managed to engage each other democratically to design our jobs for the coming year, assign ourselves various managerial tasks and deliberate on how to make the site as productive and effective as possible. How many employees working in the corporate media can claim that at any point in their careers, let alone as fresh hires?

We’ve jokingly thrown around references to a better known "collective" in our popular culture, the mind-sharing Borg of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It’s tempting to assume that any organization in which power is uniformly distributed must entail uniformity among its members. Somehow, though, we manage to defy Star-Trek myth. We’re not actually some freak happenstance in which ideological and professional compatriots have magically aligned. Nor did the founders of TNS decide to seek out other staffers who fit some predetermined blueprint for the "ideal" collective member.

I say with confidence that everyone involved with this project is a rather unique individual, and our work habits, writing styles, skill sets and politics probably all vary considerably. The main thing we have in common, really, is a dedication to creating a news organization based on integrity, in both content and structure. Organizations like this draw their power not from rigidity, but from elasticity; TNS evolves with its participants and members through constant dialogue and introspection. Unlike the predominant corporate media paradigm, we’re not in the business of molding people’s minds – not our own or our readers’.

These aren’t totally original ideas, of course, but I think we are among the first in the hard-news business to attempt to codify our ideals and live up to them in every aspect of our operations – hence our name, I guess. So we’re making these new standards official. Currently, Jessica and I are going through the Contributor’s Handbook (you can read the old, soon-to-be-outdated version here) line by line, revisiting nearly every facet of our editorial process, from the development of story ideas, to rules for providing fair coverage to all stakeholders in an issue, to the handing of libel lawsuits (knock on wood).

It’s been fascinating to parse this editorial framework. We’ve added a ton of rules and guidelines, clarifying our ethical standards and strengthening policies to ensure rigorous newsgathering. But the amazing thing is the extent to which the underlying principles have remained intact. The original handbook was established more than two years ago, not by newspaper-industry veterans but just ordinary folks, seeking to change the way we as a society learn about crucial issues. As we rework our ethical fabric, we are essentially elaborating on policies that were built for endurance. Because the organization was crafted with just enough room to grow comfortably, we can extend beyond the daily news cycle without straying from the public interest.

So, in keeping with our tradition of improvement through an open and participatory process, I’ll end this rant by turning the mic over to you. The only thing as cool as getting inside the collective head of TNS is tapping into the minds of our readership.

Feel free to post comments below about our operations, our ethics and our new prospects. You’re the reason we exist, so we welcome your reflections about where we’re headed, how you’d like to see us expand, and how we can continue to provide a refreshing alternative to the corporate standard in our media culture. Fire away…


PJD: ‘Lower your shields...’

We've added a ton of rules and guidelines...

Just what we need. I look forward to your "professional reporting" just like we get from the new York Times or the Washingtom Post.

marcus99nd: location

Are Michelle and Brandon in Syracuse too? Or is this a "virtual collective?"

PJD: ‘Lower your shields...’

We've added a ton of rules and guidelines...

Just what we need. I look forward to your "professional reporting" just like we get from the new York Times or the Washingtom Post.

msszczep: ‘Lower your shields...’

Now, now. Having rules isn't necessarily a bad thing. Especially in a complicated world which TNS is going to be reporting, rules are a very good, even necessary thing. The main question is: will the rules help to facilitate TNS' mission as a positive hard-news resource promoting solidarity, diversity, and all the rest of it? If so, then great.

By the way, the premiere resource regarding Star Trek stuff on the web is Memory Alpha. Their page on the Borg (great reference in the title!) is here:

Michelle Chen: ‘Lower your shields...’

Oh dear. The new handbook isn't even out yet and we're already raising suspicions of selling out! I'll just say for now that there are many policies and ethical guideposts underlying every word we publish--a fact that is easy to take for granted when you're just browsing the site. So if you like the work we've been doing so far, then that should affirm the belief that when conscientiously developed, standards can be a good thing. But don't take my word for it: the new handbook will be posted for all to see very soon.

Anyway, keep the comments coming. It's great to know that our readers are our toughest critics (second only to perhaps ourselves).

To answer the earlier question: No, Brendan and I are not in Syracuse. Since our biological and technological assimilation is complete, our psychic mesh knows no geographical boundaries.

Tony Christini: Interview, Interviews, Interviews

I can't tell you how often simple incisive interviews - or supplemented interviews - seem to be more engaging, instructive, and newsworthy than regular articles. Especially when those interviews are of underrepresented voices or voices that represent views that are typically overwhelmed or blocked out of the dominant media. It seems to me that more such innovation is needed to set TNS further apart from the dominant media.

curtis_cooper: ‘Lower your shields...’

The thought that young adults can work collectively in a democratic manner to produce a quality, socially beneficial product is refreshing, liberating even. Underappreciated and not overrated... yes, but there are some rewards. Keep up the integrity.

Benjamin Melançon: A New Standard of News

Nice new site layout. (Now put the letters, in that order, somewhere on it please!!!)

I've put a lot of thought into what a newspaper I would start (the Boston Truth) would need for guiding principles. Fortunately for you-all, I won't look into what I've written down but just give the two things I can remember.

First, an explicit definition of news as things that matter to people's lives. This would count life vs. death as the strongest effect on someone's life, health next, and so on. If, worldwide, children under five die at the rate of 30,000 a day from malnutrition and preventible diseases – and they do – this is a regular occurrence and literally is not news by the standard taught me in journalism school. Therefore, an explicit definition of news as what matters to the most lives is needed to justify putting this, or any other persistent tragedy/travesty, up front every day, if so chosen.

Second, follow-up. This is also constantly complained about by readers of establishment newspapers and viewers of establishment press ("What happened to such-and-such a story?") and I think The NewStandard does a simply exemplary job here, not committing to covering what it cannot follow through on. Amazing discipline. I suggest supplementing this with a technical system that makes it easy to list more recent stories at the end of articles. Trust me, I would use this a lot, going back to an original article to see what followed.

Thanks for listening and keep up the inspiring work!

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.