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 â€“ 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 weâ€™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?
Weâ€™ve jokingly thrown around references to a better known "collective" in our popular culture, the mind-sharing Borg of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Itâ€™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. Weâ€™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, weâ€™re not in the business of molding peopleâ€™s minds â€“ not our own or our readersâ€™.
These arenâ€™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 â€“ hence our name, I guess. So weâ€™re making these new standards official. Currently, Jessica and I are going through the Contributorâ€™s Handbook (you can read the old, soon-to-be-outdated version here) line by line, revisiting nearly every facet of our editorial process, from the development of story ideas, to rules for providing fair coverage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).
Itâ€™s been fascinating to parse this editorial framework. Weâ€™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, Iâ€™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. Youâ€™re the reason we exist, so we welcome your reflections about where weâ€™re headed, how youâ€™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 awayâ€¦