Journalism’s great experiment

3 Apr

By: Gabriela Gonzalez

“Journalism is not dying, it is just changing,” is what all of my first-year professors told us in J-school.

Advertisements’ cause of death: Yahoo and Craigslist. Newspapers’ cause of death: the Internet.

This is not a new topic.

It is official: Open newsrooms are having conversations with their readers and using social media to obtain feedback and information. Those who stick to traditional journalism shield themselves saying their type of journalism is more analytical and in-depth.

Clay Shirky said, “Journalism has remained so unchanged … that journalists didn’t feel they had to change. As such, there was a general skepticism of online sources. Leads can be found everywhere now, from places you’d never deem credible in the past. Amateur blogs, for one … But, five years ago, if you said you were citing a stranger on the Internet you’d [probably] get yelled at by an editor.”

If it was wrong before, what makes it right now?

Shirky also adds that by linking and becoming more innovative in journalism, newspapers can avoid plagiarism. This is an argument all on its own. Is aggregation plagiarism?

Of course, the media that opts to go digital faces its own challenges such as no or reduced revenue.

Newspapers went steady and even had their readership explode in the 1830s, he said. Part of the reason why newspapers were successful was because there was a scarcity of news. There was only a couple of selected places to get your information. Now, that scarcity of news is gone. Competition has intensified.

Shirky argues the newspaper and print media needs “radical reinvention.”

Julie Moos of the Poynter Institute writes, ““The monopoly era of factory-produced, one-way, institutional journalism has ended.”

Today, what exists is a “democracy of distribution.” Anyone who had Internet can publish or access any information available.

Journalism is not dying, however. “Many students are still choosing to enter journalism programs,” Eunice Chan said.

According to Ernie Sotomayor, careers director at Columbia University graduate school of journalism, the number of applicants to journalism schools is increasing.

What appeals to students even more now is the fact that with the Internet their work is received by a larger audience.

Mathew Ingram writes that people are still looking for journalists who can break down and make sense of what is out there. The readers need someone who can breakdown data and analyze it.

Even if journalism is alive and well, and it is just going through a period of experimentation, journalists must change with it to keep it alive and competitive.

Steve Myers said: “We know we should broaden our network of sources, but we stick to official ones. We know we can connect with the community through social media, but we haven’t signed in to Twitter in months. We know we should think Web-first, but our days are still built around the daily deadline.”

Not only does the journalist have to adapt to new technology and media platforms, but he or she must work on adding value to the craft.

Richard Koci Hernandez, a photographer at the Mercury News, said, “”Right now there’s a huge appetite for multitalented journalists. You have to bring something else to the table.”

In journalism today, you need to show that you can bring value to your work. If you can do multimedia, you’ll have a job. One needs to separate oneself from the average blogger out there.

Gina Masullo Chen said: “Challenge away. We’re fighting for our lives here as an industry. We can’t afford to do anything that doesn’t add value, and figuring out what adds value must be tied to the reader…We must listen to our readers.”

She writes about journalists saying, “I think part of the reason is we assume readers don’t really know what they want or we think what they want isn’t good for them.  That paternalistic model, frankly, hasn’t been working for decades.”

I think it is tough to balance listening to the reader, but keeping the quality of your work. She argues that journalists see world affairs and news about the economy as important, but the readership doesn’t care. People, in my opinion and maybe I am thinking like a “paternalistic” journalist here, are shallow. They want shallow and dumb news. People wonder why the U.S. ranks low in knowledge about international affairs and politics in comparison to other countries, and I believe this will get worse as we continue to go for the “listen to the reader” philosophy.

Maybe the “feed the reader” system hasn’t been working for decades, but I can tell you that through traditional media we had a much more educated public back then than we do now.

I think Ingram is right when he argues that journalism is more about inquiry and analysis rather than a method of publishing. So whether journalism goes digital first and print second is irrelevant, though this will probably happen. The most important issue here is the quality of the work being given.

I very much agree with Brent Cunningham who said, “Sustaining serious journalism in the digital age is a topic of much discussion and experimentation, most of which focuses on the product — the supply side of the information equation. But there will be no solution without demand from a citizenry that understands and values quality journalism.”

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