Many a post on this blog recently have discussed new means of content production in order to save journalism.
The discussion has been about ways of preserving the concept and ideals of journalism while staying innovative and preventing its demise so that its mission can be carried forth.
As shown, journalism can’t serve the public interest if it is marginalized because it’s stuck in the ways of old.
Innovation keeps the relevant information reported by journalists, well, relevant in the minds of readers because they can access it through all the latest trendy means.
For more on this, feel free to curiously peruse previous posts here.
But today’s topic deals a bit with the other side of the coin: Media bombardment and information overload.
There’s never been a more exciting time to be in journalism, say many editors and publishers. These words ring out like echoes through J-schools across the land. And like life rafts to drowning swimmers, they help students stabilize beliefs about prospects for future employment in the industry.
This assessment of the industry today is of course true.
The advent of increased technological means of dissemination means more jobs for those who’ve acquired the necessary skills.
Where up-to-date news once meant at the end of the day, or maybe on the hour for 24-hour news outlets, up-to-date now means right now, this second.
With this influx of new jobs to fill and the ever-present option of creating an independent start-up, the barriers to entry have all but been removed, said Jack Shafer in an article in Slate.
This is true as is the fact that readers can access sites in a multitude of ways – probably as varied and as quickly increasing as the number of news sites themselves.
So, now is a great time to produce news in a world full of media-hungry consumers who are never more than a click away – even while walking somewhere.
The problem is that there isn’t enough information to satisfy this hunger. At least, not enough pertinent information.
This is where fluff takes hold.
Fluff takes two forms: contributory and direct.
Contributory fluff is the filler fluff used in publications that have run out of things to say, but need more to satisfy readers desire for new material. This fluff gives rise to the notion that the news is irrelevant because it often makes stories out of non-stories (See “Trend Stories“), or includes some pointless tidbit that elicits a “Wow, I’m never getting that time of my life back” response.
So, it’s our job as journalists to use news judgement and cut out the (contributory) fluff.
The old adage of give the people what they want says if people want to read new information, give them new information to read. But this doesn’t necessarily work in journalism.
Journalists are entrusted to stick to the relevant stuff and that’s what they should do.
The next sort of fluff is direct.
This is more of a product stemming from the fragmentation of today’s audience.
With splintering groups going off to start their own news outlets (See “Don’t miss the boat on hyperlocal partnering“), many are bound to only be relevant to a very small group. It’s not my goal to say these groups’ expression doesn’t matter, it’s just that it doesn’t matter to the majority of us.
While these minuet publications may make it financially through help from the core base of readers, they often fail when they expand beyond their realm.
This can be seen on a larger scale by looking at media conglomerate Tribune Co. It expanded too quickly and couldn’t keep up revenue wise, thus the company filed for bankruptcy.
However, many local weeklies and free newspapers are doing okay. But, back to the point.
Like spam filling up an inbox, unsolicited e-zines and free newspapers stuck under the windshield wiper of one’s car, direct fluff publications bombard consumers with too much pointless information and elicits a “Who cares, and why isn’t somebody controlling the distribution of this stuff” response from the majority.
When this happens, journalism’s relevance is diluted.
People lump the relevant publications in with the irrelevant as all “news.” And this isn’t good for the relevant ones.
So, I’ve taken a bit of a critical approach to the very ideas of new content generation I’ve preached about prior to this post. One might be inclined to call me hypocritical.
But this isn’t the case.
All I’m saying is that in this age where everything happens quickly and gets reported even quicker, journalists need to remember what it is they’re trying to accomplish.
So collaborate with citizens. Start new publications, in print or online. Become a one-man show like Kery Murakami at the Seattle Post-Globe.
Just remember: Focus on the product. Keep your readers in mind. Be innovative. But don’t be a part of the fluff spewing around cyberspace.
Journalism isn’t a reality show, it supposed to show reality.