The war against the newspaper industry has been on for a while. Its opponents have been slowly gaining ground with the rise of the 24-hour news networks, blogs, and citizen journalism. Over time, newspapers have become the butt of many jokes and frankly, the industry has taken all of this lying down.
The website Newspaperlayoffs.com reports that thu far in 2010, 2,229 plus jobs have been lost in the newspaper industry due to layoffs and buyouts at various U.S. papers. The industry never stood up and attempted to claim a place in the current landscape. As everyone asserted, “it’s just the way things go,” newspapers shrugged and accepted their fate.
By accepting their defeat without a real fight, I believe newspapers have left behind a great weapon. It’s up in their attic, collecting dust and disappearing behind cobwebs woven by dispirited editors and publishers.
What is this great weapon that has been left in a dark and lonely corner?
Yes, context. Let me explain.
In today’s media landscape, great emphasis is placed on timeliness. Most media professionals believe that the public desires constant breaking news. This idea has been affirmed by one of the great journalists of our time, Adam Penenberg, best known for his expose in “Forbes Digital Tool,” the one time Forbes web publication, in which he uncovers the journalistic fraud of The New Republic and rising star reporter Stephen Glass in 1998.
During an interview with Techcrunch, Penenberg points out the major problem with modern journalism – online and off – “is [the] obsession with being first – wanting to beat your rival to the story by two minutes.”
This drive to be first has created a culture of roughly-constructed news stories. This leads to stories for which the correspondent has performed little or no research. How could he? He is breaking the news. There is no time for in-depth research.
Most newspapers have been fed and have digested the lie that people only care for the newest stories. That people don’t want to hear a whole story from beginning to end. People don’t want to think, they want sound bites.
This fear has been fueled by the rise of social media and citizen journalism. But as my fellow TNGG writer Wynn Harrison noted in her article ‘The Golden Age of Journalism,” despite this rise of social media and citizen journalism, we still need journalists as our storytellers. She claims “the art of being able to tell a story will always be the core of journalism.” I concur. Journalists, the good ones, give us stories with proper context. They take time to gather information from different sources: interviews, databases, twitter feeds, etc. They bring it all together into one solid story.
We need these the great storytellers to rise up again. But sadly, they are dying rapidly. Why? Adam Penenberg says in his interview, “Today’s news journalists are expected to churn out half a dozen stories a day, often with little-to-no fact checking, simply to make sure they’re first with every tiny development.”
How can anyone can possibly churn out half a dozen, properly researched and developed stories a day.
So I’m begging the newspaper industry to get off that La-Z-Boy recliner. Head up to that attic. Go ahead. I know it’s a bit scary. It’s been a while since you’ve been up there. But I promise it’s safe. Head up there and grab that beautiful thing known as context. Wipe off all the dust and cobwebs. Give it a good polish and place it proudly on your most prominent shelf. I promise, your guests will be very impressed and might just want to return for another visit.