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Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Jay Rosen Has Great Advice for CBS News: Stop Lecturing, Start Listening

People responsible for selling stuff like cars and computers take it as a given these days that to be successful it is essential that you listen to your customers, figure out what they want and need and give it to them at the lowest profitable price. And then be obsessed about making sure they have a good experience with your product after they buy it.

Put another way, you just can't force a granola-and-Volvo-loving liberal soccer mom in Seattle to buy the same big-tired, big-engine Ford F-150 full-size King Cab pickup that makes an Arkansas farmer's heart go pitty-pat. You gotta give both of them what they want the way they want it when they want it. And to do that, you gotta listen to them. Don't even think about telling them what they should want.

Jay Rosen, chairman of the NYU journalism department and chief editorial spark behind the PressThink blog, puts it in somewhat more eloquent terms, but that maxim is the essence of his advice to the CBS executives now trying to sort out the wreckage that is the reputation of the Tiffany Network's news division in the wake of Rathergate:

"Before they decide who gets the anchor chair, or what happens with CBS News, they could engage in an extraordinary, one-of-a-kind, national act of public listening, where the entire divison, CBS News, just listens to Americans state their views about broadcast news. Lots of Americans, lots of views, lots of time to hear about all sides of the problem."

Odds are not good that the CBS folks will even think about heeding Rosen's excellent advice, but that will be their great loss. In the absence of pursuing something very similar to what Rosen suggests, the future is likely to be rather less than bright for CBS News.

That said, PressThink is one of those sites that ought to be required reading for all journos, and those who care about what journos - MSM professionals and new media "amatuers" alike - do.