So many ways to tell a story

What do you get when you move a 50-something magazine editor to the Web side? In the case of John Byrne, executive editor of BusinessWeek and editor in chief of BusinessWeek.com, you get a full-fledged convert. Byrne told the UNC-SABEW site Talking Biz News what he finds so appealing about online news:

I believe in journalism’s most basic values—to inform and enlighten with integrity, to bring intelligent analysis to a complex world, to capture the great drama that business truly is, to teach, help and inspire people, and—let’s face it—to attempt to reform what’s not right with the world. I don’t believe there is a more creative place or a place more suited to accomplish all those goals than digital. You have so many ways to be a storyteller online. That’s why I think of the web as not just another medium, but rather a new utility, like electricity. It’s print, radio, and television all in one, except better and much more than all of them together.

Byrne is convinced that journalism organizations have to move from being “product-centric” to being “audience-centric,” but he admits that’s a hard sell in most newsrooms–even his own.

The other day I suggested to my senior team that every Saturday we turn our entire home page over to user-generated content. People looked at me as if I was the devil.

Despite the internal resistance, Byrne and his staff are finding ways of reaching out to readers. Last month, he launched a “What’s Your Story Idea” blog to solicit input from users.  In a recent post, he tells how senior writer Stephen Baker used Twitter to report the recent cover story on, you guessed it, Twitter.

Steve then began to write the topic sentences for each paragraph of his story, asking the Twitter community to weigh in. To get people engaged, Steve asked readers to Twitter back additional sentences to follow his own. Scores of people responded, sending in hundreds of comments that Steve used to construct his story.

Baker also blogged about the story and the process of writing it. None of this may seem like a big deal, but remember that we’re talking about Business Week–a stodgy publication if there ever was one. Its online transformation is still a work in progress but it’s making strides: last week BusinessWeek.com took home the EPpy for the best business site, beating The Wall Street Journal.

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