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May 05

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The New Age of Journalism

(As part of my first class in my Masters in New Media Journalism, we had to answer a few questions…thought I’d share.)

 What is Journalism? 

This is a really interesting question…

In my mind, Journalism is, quite simply…storytelling. 

Put a fancy wrapper on it all you want.  Talk about objectivity and hard facts…but tabloids also report news.  Broadcast networks are politically biased, as are newspapers.

The more we try to elevate news to be “News,” the more we obscure the essential truth of it.  We like to hear stories.  We like to know what our neighbors are up to—whether they are across the street, or in another country.  Yeah, we like to know what actually happens…but we usually don’t mind a little embellishment to make it interesting.  And as “journalists,” we take advantage of that.  If it bleeds it leads…man bites dog…ect.

After all, people seem to forget, the very first journalists were scalds and bards.  The “news at 11” a few thousand years ago, are now the myths and folklore of today.

My News Consumption

I get all my news from RSS feeds on my iPhone on an app called Pulse.

I have over 50 feeds I check, but some of my favorites are iO9, NPR, CNN, and the BBC.  As a writer though, I spend most of the time checking out the blogs of other writers.

I’m working on building an audience for my own writing blog:  www.peterusagi.com

Peter Usagi is my writing pseudonym…(ssshhh, it’s a secret)

I usually like to post something on my blog at least once a week.  Though, I’ve been working weekends and midnight shifts the last month, so I’m a little behind.

When it comes to research and getting info, Wikipedia and Google are my best friends.  Though, most of my research is for my books and not news articles so as long as a get a good feeling about being close to the truth, I’m not that picky.

Which Media Has The Most Impact?

[The quotes below (marked-up in italics) come from the Pew Study on the State of the Media for 2011.]

In my opinion, the media with the most “impact” is long form narrative prose…I.E. books.  Impact is not the same thing as distribution, or even market saturation.  Impact doesn’t have anything at all to do with the numbers…

It’s a measure of how well your message resonated with your audience.

I think only a very few people have actually read a news article that has profoundly changed who they are as a person.  Conversely, I think everyone has read at least one book that has had such a massive impact on them, that it fundamentally changed who they were, and what they believed.

Why Does Journalism Matter?

It’s because we cannot define our individuality in a vacuum.

It’s a fictional example, but even Tom Hanks in Cast Away needed a straight man to help keep his “sanity” intact…even if Wilson was just a volleyball—it was an “imagined” someone else that Hanks talked at that helped him quantify his own existence.  It was only by going “mad” that he managed to keep from eventually surrendering to despair, and killing himself.

News, whether it comes in the form of gossip from our neighbor, or from a venerable anchor on the evening news—helps us define ourselves, and our place in the world we live in.

For the first time, too, more people said they got news from the web than newspapers.

That’s because blogs are the “reality TV” of journalism.  It might not be polished and professional…but it has the bitter tang of reality for a seasoning.

 A TV anchorman doesn’t live the life we do (or so we suppose).  Why do celebrities and gonzo journalism about trivial minutia, monopolize modern journalism?

Does a royal wedding really matter when people are dying in tornados, being killed by radioactive fallout, or when their country is about to default on its national debt?

Our audience has grown up.  You can’t tell them to eat their news “vegetables” anymore.  If they want to eat “junk” news…that’s what advertisers are going to have to give them–if they want to make a profit.

…In a media world where consumers decide what news they want to get and how they want to get it, the future will belong to those who understand the public’s changing behavior and can target content and advertising to snugly fit the interests of each user. That knowledge — and the expertise in gathering it — increasingly resides with technology companies outside journalism.

And let’s be fair…news isn’t about uncovering government conspiracies, investigating corporations that pollute the environment, or that report on poverty and human rights violations in their own country.

Truth in news is irrelevant.  Even in the senate it’s become optional.

Journalism has become a three ring circus…and all the networks and newspapers care about right now, isn’t the news—it’s if you buy a ticket to watch.

News is all about making a profit now.  And to do that, you need to keep the advertisers and sponsors happy.

I already knew this.

And as a number of individuals in our text book explained, it’s not some big secret.

Some also worry that with lower pay, more demands for speed, less training, and more volunteer work, there is a general devaluing and even what scholar Robert Picard has called a “de-skilling” of the profession.

And?

That’s exactly what happened when word processors and laser printers hit the market.  Everyone was a desktop publisher.  Sure, they might put 10 different fonts in one paragraph.  Yeah, they might write on a middle school level…but so what?  It doesn’t really matter if they have an audience.  If someone reads their newsletter, they are already successful.  Sure, they can make it better.  But that’s not the point.

Just like Hollywood and the music industry had a rude awakening; publishers, newspapers, and journalists are tossing and turning in an escalating nightmare of obsolescence.

I’m also a futurist.  I foresee the rise of the Free-Range press.

Everyday ordinary citizens answering their nation’s call to become guerrilla reporters…going undercover (or just to work as they normally would), and exposing the facts and truths that our coddled and domesticated newsrooms can’t see with their corporate sponsored blinders on—and wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole (for fear of antagonizing their abusive business partners) if they could see them.

Traditional newsrooms, meanwhile, are different places than they were before the recession. They are smaller, their aspirations have narrowed and their journalists are stretched thinner. But their leaders also say they are more adaptive, younger and more engaged in multimedia presentation, aggregation, blogging and user content. In some ways, new media and old, slowly and sometimes grudgingly, are coming to resemble each other.

Slowly?  And what resemblance?  You can try to put the ski mask of modern technology on a dying man…but it won’t help him live any longer—it will just make people around him more suspicious.

The biggest issue ahead may not be lack of audience or even lack of new revenue experiments. It may be that in the digital realm the news industry is no longer in control of its own future.

This system is dying because it needs to make a profit.  Its favorite food source is gone.  And it stubbornly refuses to try to eat anything else.

You know what happens to organisms (or organizations) that cannot adapt, right?

Journalists needed the newsroom and the printing press of a newspaper.  Reporters needed equipment and a TV station to broadcast their stories.

They also needed a paycheck.

With fewer and fewer jobs, and more cut-throat competition…it will only be a few more years until journalism as we know it becomes extinct, or mutates into something completely different.

After all, freelance journalists no longer need to be subservient to the politics of marketing, advertizing—and the meddling of politicians and entrenched interests.  The equipment is no longer expensive.  The bandwidth is available.  And so is a potential audience of billions.

All they have to do is write (or film) their news stories, and distribute them online for free.

Yes, there is a danger.  Yes, it’s David vs. Goliath.

But as they say, the truth will set you free.  You may be sued, accosted, threatened, or simply ignored.  But it’s hard to deny the truth…

And if people trust you, and your reporting…they’ll pay for it.

After all, that’s what a newspaper subscription used to be.  Heck, who wouldn’t donate a few bucks to a journalist who lived in his car, traveled on the kindness of strangers, and wrote articles about truths that are stubbornly ignored by popular media?

Got a sour taste in your mouth now?

Sorry…

Did you know that didn’t join the army to become a millionaire?

It’s true.  I didn’t.

Are you studying journalism for a fat paycheck and a fancy car?

I hope not.  Don’t ask me why…I’ll let you figure it out on your own.

What Kind of Journalism Matters?

In my mind, there is only one reason to become a reporter:  To tell stories that have impact; that matter.  Stories some people don’t want to read, and others people don’t want to see published.  Stories that will get a newspaper shut down, reporters detained, and cameras destroyed—that’s the journalism that matters.  That’s the news that will change the world.

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Permanent link to this article: http://peterusagi.com/2011/05/05/the-new-age-of-journalism/

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