Former FT.com news editor Liisa Rohumaa makes a very interesting contribution to the multimedia debate on journalism.co.uk. It identifies the changes in the industry without making some of the vast generalisations often associated with this discussion.
I’m not sure, though, whether this all adds up to “reinventing” journalism or journalists. And I think it misses mention of two factors which distort the debate.
Telling the story
I agree that it’s not good enough to say “Never mind the multimedia, it’s about the story”, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that the story is what it is all about. The challenge is to master the new ways of delivering stories while at the same time preserving the skills of finding and following up those stories.
This isn’t a reinvention, more a recognition that journalists have to adjust to a changing world – just like real people! What’s different about journalism is the amount of change that has affected the industry in a relatively short time. It’s the rate of change which has left many people reeling, not the nature of it. And this change is, in turn, changing readership habits.
Much of the technological change makes it possible to do the things many of us have wanted for years – interaction with readers, better and more instant feedback on whether stories have worked, the ability to cover different angles of the same story by using multiple media platforms, the opening up of information to a wider base to name but a few.
Those two factors
I mentioned two factors which distort the debate. One is the innate conservatism of the trade – journalists like their traditions and many don’t respond well to the idea that they might have to change what they’ve been doing. The other, far more important distortion, is that fact the changing technologies are being used primarily by employers to drive down costs. This, in turn, fuels the trade’s innate conservatism as journalists see – in many cases quite rightly – a cost-cutting exercise spun as a professional advance.
Now, I’m not arguing cost is not important, but it has to be looked at as part of the bigger picture. Content can be delivered more cheaply than ever before, but unless that content has a certain quality that readers can recognise, it’s not going to provide any long-term benefit. This isn’t an elitist argument, just a recognition that readers go to trusted sources.
Not better, but different
It’s also important for journalists to push why the differences between journalism and simply communicating are important. At its best, good journalism can uncover stories, bring power to account, influence opinion and open up minds. It can do so if it is properly resourced, if it carries authority drawn from a recognisable methodology, and if it is delivered effectively.
As I’ve argued many times before on this blog, we need at least as much focus on what we deliver as the way we deliver it. To do so, we need to be sure media organisations are putting quality first.