The quality debate: Journalism Vs Journalists

Mark Hamilton has been pondering the video quality debate.

Commenting on Howard Owens’ ‘1 hour video’ view he saw the value of a competitive approach but:

I’m still tryng to reconcile his argument about better journalism with his earlier insistence that there’s no ROI on video that takes longer than an hour to shoot and edit. In his argument for quality storytelling, something doesn’t connect.

A comment from Howard produced a longer response, quoting Howard, to clarify his point and question whether that approach would “leave us with video not as connective, attractive, entertaining storytelling, but as commodity.” And in turn that would impact on the quality of journalism.

Illustrating a solution

Earlier in the week Mark had commented on my post about illustrative video, wondering about the application.  And as an aside I’ve been reflecting on the idea that, perhaps, seeing video in that way, as part of a broader reporting process (and maybe by necessity following ,at least in the early implementation, the 1 hour rule) is the way to reconcile the story Vs. commodity idea.

If that ‘1 hour’ video is running along with a well researched ‘print’ story then the storytelling is not compromised. You get a better ROI on that because it isn’t your only investment in time and you still get usable text content (the core of journalism business)

But that’s an aside. (And a bit of Mea Culpa follows).

Don’t forget the journalist

I strayed perilously close to being a bit of a troll this week as I got in to a comment discussion with Zac Echola over a post he made defending/expanding Howard’s view. I though Zach was missing a point with his take on lazy journalists not getting it.

His view:

While intangibles like “reputation” and “preferred source” and “best” are nice for marketing yourself to clients or possible new readers, they’re not as valuable in the long tail market.

Now he may be right, but things like “reputation” and “preferred source” and “best” are concepts that journalists have been defining themselves with for a long time. And the point I made was that unless that kind of thinking was factored in to change and development the you would lose/devalue/demotivate the most valuable commodity of all in that thinking – the journalist.

With that in mind I find myself sharing some of Mark’s concern. Not because I think Howard’s (or Zach) view is anti-journalism. Far from it. It’s more because both sides of the debate touch heavily on the core defining elements of journalism but neither have satisfactory answers for those who question what will result.

Does someone still have to be a journalist

In the abstract the disruptive approach may seem to devalue the process of journalism – squash it, commodify it and reduce it the pounds and pence. On the other side the quality approach could be accused of hiding a way of doing journalism that, for all but the biggest, is not economically sustainable. Journalism for the sake of journalism in the face of an obvious commercial reality.

So let’s be blunt. The way this debate keeps raising a question for me. Can we really keep framing this debate in terms of journalism vs business. Or do we accept that the debate isn’t really about journalism It’s about journalists and what it will mean to be a journalist. What the job and meaning of that role will be and how that will set them apart from what they do.

If we substitute journalist for journalism, then are asking; Can there be two kinds of journalist out there? Can there be, as the debate would have, it ‘quality’ journalists and ‘disruptive’ journalists?

That would be stupid, wouldn’t it?

5 Replies to “The quality debate: Journalism Vs Journalists”

  1. No hard feelings, Andy. I think it’s an excellent topic to discuss. I must admit that I play devil’s advocate pretty hard more often than I should.

    I have always seen the job of journalists as making sense of information. The concept that we must have a story (specifically narrative like articles and videos) to make sense of information doesn’t always work well on the Web.

    From a journalism standpoint, Adrian Holovaty says my feelings much clearer than I can. From a business perspective, we have to do what will make us money and keep our jobs, and I think Howard is absolutely right about doing more journalism faster and in smaller chunks.

    I think both quality and disruption can coexist, so I believe you’re completely right about how we should re-frame this debate: “Quality” is an intangible, like I said. Ultimately, most readers don’t care about the journalist, they care about the information. You can have quality information regardless of medium.

    Our audience should define quality, not us.

  2. Devils advocate meets devils advocate can be a comment impasse 🙂

    “The concept that we must have a story (specifically narrative like articles and videos) to make sense of information doesn’t always work well on the Web.”

    I kind of agree with that. But some would argue that the interpretation of that information, whether that be through story or editorial selection and presentation of that information is what a journalist does. It just so happens that making it ‘a story’ is a palatable and expected way of doing it.

    Some would argue that information has no intrinsic value unless it is intepreted. That information turned in to knowledge – following the old data, information, knowledge and wisdom – and it’s the experience of journalists that does that.

    So I read Holovaty as in favor of story, that’s his form of information – journalists knowledge turning data into stories. Where a story is defined by its relevance to the audience

    Of course digital in all its forms subverts the role of a journalist on a number of different levels. But we need to be aware that it doesn’t remove those people from the role.

    Journalists are used to that role as the knowledgeable and wise (imagine yoda with a press pass). Their experience means they have set their own markers of quality with little reference to the audience – it’s professional identity. And whilst I agree you can have quality information regardless of the medium, I’m not sure that I agree with the idea that the audience just care about the information. They have been weened on the diet of content that professionals identity has created

    So in that sense meeting the needs of the the consumer is only part of the whole process of change. Setting a measure quality by the barr set by the audience is just as troublesome as setting the bar set by the journalist. Both are so diverse it can only work on a local level.

  3. Wish my previous response hadn’t been lost … it was quite good.

    But it comes down to trusting journalist to get it right. Either journalists are good, creative people who given time, training, motivation, etc. will eventually produce better and better web video; or you don’t trust them, and video should only be produced by the privileged few videographers/visual storytellers.

    It’s the old thing of, you gotta start someplace. We’re not going to turn a bunch of print guys and gals into Peabody winners overnight, or even in a year, or even in two.

    Point-and-shoot video, like Texas Holdem, takes minutes to learn, a lifetime to master.

    I’m eager to see what reporters who started out with simple tools and a simple approach are able to accomplish in a few years, for those who stick with it.

    The only reason I keep framing this as a business decision debate is because too few journalists are willing to look at it from a business-sense perspective. It is business thinking that pays the bills and keeps people employed. Ivory tower thinking about video is counter productive and could ultimately be destructive.

  4. Sorry the akismet monkeys swallowed your last comment Howard.

    That was my point. Forget about the ‘quality’ of the the journalism. It’s a red herring. It’s all about the journalist. How they react and how they are treated.

    That’s what makes me uneasy. It is the debate, not either approach, that can sometimes fail to address that attitude from journalists. Both sides and all approaches.

    I’m not sure I agree with your division. Strikes me as one of those ‘my way and the wrong way views’

    And whilst I take the point about business – if your ‘in’ business that’s what you think about. But I’m bound to defend a bit of thinking – ivory tower or otherwise.

    Doesn’t mean that it isn’t getting done just because we are talking/thinking about it.

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