I read an interesting post by Gary Goldhammer (via Jack Lail, via Howard Owens) which, for me, highlights an interesting direction in an old debate and prompts me to make my one and only prediction for the new year.
In reflecting on the old ‘digital will kill newspapers’ argument, he makes the point that technology isn’t what will contribute to the success or otherwise of newspapers in a digital age. For Goldhammer, the skill we need to concentrate on is telling a story. A skill he sees as sadly lacking in today’s newspaper.
We get snippets, digests and broad strokes. We get opinion without context, commentary without research and sound bite upon sound bite upon sound bite. Like almost every other form of media, the newspaper has been “Tivoed” and revamped to address our mass cultural Attention Deficit Disorder, so much so that we know more about Tom and Katie than Shiite and Sunni (and care more about the former as well.)
Howard Owens picks up on this idea, spinning in the benefits of this approach to (hyper)local journalism, to tell us that we should be telling stories about people.
That’s what local journalism is all about. So, tell people stories. Give us something revealing about people.
Goldhammer makes a persuasive case for a ‘back to basics’ but he does point out that, whilst it may not be the big threat many think it is, it’s inevitable that in learning how to tell better stories, journalists will need to engage with new technology..
…yes, these stories, when warranted or possible, will need to include video and graphics, and audience engagement via commenting and other social media norms, among other things. All media is multimedia, and that goes for newspapers, too.
This peaked Jack Lail’s interest, who goes one step further.
…tools don’t create the substance. But learning to tell the story in video or audio or flash or whatever is next does make good journalism. A medium that allows video and interactive story telling demands it use.
Owens sounds a note of caution here. Just because the technology means we can, it doesn’t always mean we have to.
A lot of journalists get hung up on the unlimited space of the web and think they can write longer, stream longer or just throw up gobs of documents. But the true beauty of the web is that you are no longer constrained by the need to fill a certain number of inches or a certain number of minutes. You can stop telling us the story when the story is over. You cut the crap and cut the filler.
It’s sensible advice. Learn to use this thing properly.
I see this kind of discussion as a very optimistic pointer for the year. When the debate is about how the changes to the industry impact on us as journalists, not how a medium is affected, we are cutting loose a lot of useless baggage.
So here is my prediction (maybe it’s also a hope.):
2007 will be the year of the Journalist first
The debate will move away from mediums to people. The debate will move from defining an industry to redefining our profession.