Friday, January 2, 2009

Circling the drain

I found this interesting post on the website of The Ann Arbor (MI) chronicle. It's a column about the Ann Arbor News, a daily newspaper.

This section here could relate to any daily newspaper (and does):

The publisher of the Detroit News, Jonathan Wolman, was in town in early December as part of a panel discussion titled “The First Amendment, Freedom of the Press and the Future of Journalism,” held at the Ford Library. As partners in The Ann Arbor Chronicle, my husband and I have a deeply vested interest in exploring this topic – it’s our future, too.

Based on what the panelists had to say, that future involves a tumult of technology – news delivered via Twitter, video, podcasts, blogs, live-blogging, social networks like Facebook and others methods yet to be invented. These different forms require attention – someone has to file a Tweet, shoot and edit video, record the podcast, get these things into some kind of presentable form and post them on whatever platform they’re using. Often, that someone has evolved to be the reporter. That doesn’t include time spent doing what the job originally entailed: Preparing, researching, reporting, writing, editing, rewriting and, god forbid, just working the beat.

With fewer people employed at news organizations, each person is asked to do more of these things. At some point, something’s got to give. Vincent Duffy, news director at Michigan Radio, said at the Ford Library forum that typically what gets shorter shrift is attention to the story itself.

Technology is also behind the news in other ways. All of the panelists said they factored in website traffic – specifically, what stories online drew the most readers – when deciding what to cover next. They all looked at that data as part of their daily news meetings, when editors discuss how to allocate their staff resources, what kind of “play” a story will get or whether it’s worth covering at all.

I guess this could be seen as the democratization of media – readers are essentially voting on what they’re most interested in, be it Britney or bailouts. But it also seems like an abdication of responsibility, when newsroom leaders throw up their hands and say, “Hey – we wanted to cover the war in Iraq, but our readers were clamoring for cute puppy stories.” It’s happening at a time when newsrooms need more leadership and vision, not less.
I guess I wish that I could have made this blog a real site for news (actually, there's no guessing involved), but that is economically not feasible (it takes too much time to verify everything when I'm not being compensated for the time). I wish all the stuff that is going on in Newburyport got better coverage and maybe The Liberator does indeed fill that gap.

It's very sad that people don't want to read a paper anymore, but I've said it here before and I'll say it again - the printed news is too dry and people want emotion. Not emotion by the reporter, but emotion from the reporter (as in, conveying it).

It's not enough to say "neighbors of the landfill have reported health effects they attribute to the former dump site," or words to that effect. But that is all that is said.

There's a reason why reality shows and blogs are so popular while newspapers are failing. Blogs are reality shows; newspapers are stuck in some era that I suspect is fairly recent. I have copies of old newspapers and you can feel the thrust of an emotional story.

It probably coincides with people writing for newspapers being labeled "journalists." Blogs are journals in every sense of the word; newspapers are not.

What I always find interesting is how, when a newspaper (and I lay the blame there because there are - or were - people called fact checkers) makes a mistake, very rarely is there a complaint by the person of whom the paper has run afoul. Everyone seems to expect mistakes.

Now isn't that just sad?

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