Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Great editor doing what you might not expect

A few posts ago I mentioned the great editor Jan Winburn, formerly of the Baltimore Sun and Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and said I wasn't sure who she was working for now. Turns out she's at CNN. I came across some tips she's writing for CNN's iReport boot camp.

I am fascinated by that. I kind of chuckle at the idea of an "iReporter," as CNN calls it, because I always think that that's what we used to call a "source," or, even more plainly, "people who saw something happen."

But now, in a time where journalists are regularly told that anyone can do their jobs (ability, skills, training and experience notwithstanding), we bestow titles upon them as though that disguises the fact that they are the same people reporters have always interviewed about breaking news, and they are doing exactly the same thing they would do if they were interviewed by a reporter -- they're telling their story. Somehow, the fact that they're submitting their own piece to a news organization, instead of talking to a reporter, makes all the difference.

Except now that story might be unfiltered by a journalist -- presumably one with ability, skills, training and experience, who could gather information and distill it to produce a strong piece of journalism. So instead of a well-reported and written story, you might get, "The tornado was unbelievable, and I even saw a cow flying through the air, LOL." OK, maybe that's hyperbole, but still.

And that brings us to Jan Winburn, who has edited some fantastic pieces for the Sun and AJC, and from whom any reporter and writer, at any stage of their career, has much to learn. She's providing tip sheets to "iReporters," but really, they're the same insight you'd get if you went to a writing seminar with her. And her tips (see link above, for example) lead to an exercise CNN asks its "iReporters" to do ("tell the story of an object that reveals something about someone you know.")

I'm not criticizing the effort, and I don't think that working journalists have a monopoly on reporting and writing skills. It's democratic to believe that anyone who wants to work to become a better reporter and writer can (and maybe even should) do so, and the more that do, the better journalism will become. I just hope CNN's "iReporters" -- and anyone else who may think the ability to type and hit "enter" puts their journalistic skills on par with people who do it for a living and care about doing it well -- truly understand and appreciate Winburn's coaching.