Journalists have a lot to teach politicians. Both professions love status quo and have a really hard time trying to understand the tectonic shifts that are undermining their traditional way of doing things. But journalists are genuinely trying to re-think Journalism and adapt it to the current times (mostly because they cannot afford status quo), while politicians are extremely comfortable with how things have worked for the past two centuries and prefer not to think about any changes (because they still can afford status quo).
The following cartoon brilliantly introduces the topic, and, besides describing journalists, it could work as well for politicians if the desk tag said “president” or “senator”. Both professions are dominated by dinosaurs that just see the Internet as the need for a web site and nothing else.
To have a feeling about the debate journalists are having among them, I recommend starting by reading the New York Times Innovation Report (here you have a condensed summary), which was meant to be a confidential report for the NYT newsroom management but was leaked to the masses. The report is great for outsiders to understand their thinking because it is brutally honest about how they are lagging behind because of their lack of understanding of the digital age. Actually, some lines in its introduction depict extremely well the dinosaurs cartoon:
“we have watched the dizzying growth of smartphones and tablets, even as we are still figuring out the web. We have watched the massive migration of readers to social media even as we were redesigning our home page.“
Although the specific recommendations for a newspaper are very different than those for a government (given their different natures and purposes), the NYT report accurately describes five important requirements that are needed for both re-thinking processes to be meaningful. Those requirements could guide very well the re-thinking of governance, but unfortunately (most) politicians have done almost nothing about them so far. Namely:
- Take more time to assess the landscape and chart the road ahead:
Politicians hardly understand the Internet and the changes it’s driving in the societies they govern.
- Rethink print-centric traditions:
Representative-centric and bureaucracy-centric traditions (that were born in the late 18th century) are deeply embedded in the mindset of politicians, who cannot even think about alternatives in which citizens are empowered to participate and to control government affairs.
- Use experiments and data to inform decisions:
Experiments? Data? What are you taking about?
- Hire and empower the right digital talent:
This is a very hard challenge. Governments have such a reputation of being slow and bureaucratic that digital talent usually escape from it and flow into the private sector, with a preference for dynamic tech startups. Anyways, promising work has been done by the nonprofit Code for America and its international partners, who place developers in local governments with a very innovative model and fantastic results.
- Work hand in hand with reader-focused departments:
Taking the effort to really understand citizens hasn’t been a priority for most politicians, who spend most of their time trying to understand donors, lobbyists and other politicians.
Journalists are slowly starting to embrace change because they had no choice, and politicians are far from embracing change because status quo is still working for them. But we as citizens have the power to force politicians to embrace change (hardest plan) and/or to become politicians ourselves committed to embrace change (hard-plan-but-not-as-much).