Facing the Facts
Let’s face it: We need to fix much more than the business model of journalism; we need to look at the fundamental structure of what we do and how we do it. Not to mention why we do it.
The world has changed, and not just because bloggers with expertise and interest cover some topics better than journalists; or that we can post videos or slideshows; or that we can publish 24/7; or that we can tap into deep databases of information; or even that the advertising dollars that commercial media feasted off are migrating away. Although all of that matters, too.
The world is changing because readers/users are changing; they’re responding to new technologies and new ways of accessing information – from turning to Wikipedia for research and news to tapping into archives to find out what they need, when they need it, to participating in the news process.
And we keep on pretty much doing what we do.
Not that we haven’t adapted – we post videos, we rush stories out, we crowdsource, we link, we blog. But some fundamental things haven’t changed.
With few exceptions, we don’t adapt our journalism styles to take account of the fact that many readers may read our stories long after we publish them. We treat the world as if we’re still publishing newspapers – just with many more editions.
Consider archives. We let people rummage around collections of old stories and think we’re giving them value. But we don’t bother to change the date references in those stories, so if I’m reading a piece from last January, and the story says “next week” in it, I have to mentally calculate when that is. We could fix that. We don’t.
With few exceptions, we don’t really take advantage of the new digital technologies to rethink the nature of how we publish – so we can better link what we do on a daily basis with the work we’ve done in the past and will do in the future. Sure, we tweet, use FourSquare and geolocate places in stories. And link to documents, provide slideshows and engage in forums.
But we haven’t really explored the notion of the story – the basic building block of what we do every day.
That’s not to say we should blow up the story. At least not completely. It is, after all, a time-honored way of passing information along.
But we should look at the structure of what we do – one built around an older technology of telexes, fitting words on a page, and daily publishing deadlines – and rethink it for an age of broadband access, infinite publishing space, and readers who aren’t chained to our deadlines.