The new journalism: what is good?



This month’s Carnival of Journalism (JCARN) asks us to help ONA figure out what qualities they should endorse in an era of sweeping change in the news industry. By the way, you really need to click over to the JCARN prompt post because it links to the earlier discussion we had on the topic. It was an epic Google Groups thread. EPIC.

Back to the issue at hand. People have already written a bunch of posts with great suggestions (stay tuned to the JCARN site for an eventual wrap-up post) that I completely agree with. However, I don’t think anyone has specifically mentioned what I’m about to talk about. For once I get to be first on something!

I would like to see ONA recognize news organizations of any size who do the best job promoting their work and delivering it to the audiences which most need or want it. What do I mean by that? I don’t mean commending the orgs with the biggest followings on Twitter or Facebook or anything similarly superficial. I’m talking about hardcore efforts like this one here. Surely we can all see how this is eons ahead of “read our stuff!” This is actual, painstaking connecting of the dots between content and audience. Every news organization should be doing this, but alas, few are.

I think this talk given by a guy at Knight says it all. Here’s the pertinent excerpt, though the entire thing is great:


How many of you, by a show of hands, believe investigative reporting is worth much more to society than it costs?

Nearly everyone. That was too easy.

Next question. How many of you believe that the average American – the cashier at the grocery store — understands the true value of investigative reporting?

Only one hand is up. Yes, our nation has news literacy issues.

One more question: How many of you believe it is your responsibility to explain the value of investigative reporting to society?

Some of you are saying yes, but a minority. Mostly the educators and nonprofit folks [italics mine].

That’s what I want to talk about. I appreciate the fact that for at least 100 years investigative reporters – including me, when I did it – considered themselves too busy to worry about whether the world understands how journalism works.

But we are in a digital age of communication, and in this networked, two-way world people now are part of our process. We have to recognize that.

If investigative journalists don’t explain the impact of their work, who will?

I think we can all see why this is especially crucial for investigative reporting which is time-consuming and expensive but it’s really worthwhile to think about for other beats as well. How can we continually make the case for our content in an authentic and honest way? And also, how can we make sure it is delivered to those who most need the information we’re offering?

This self-promotional bent, for lack of a better term, is a particular quality of online news and “new” journalism and this is why ONA should embrace it. We recognize, often better than legacy media, that we are competing for the audience’s attention at a time of great variety. Consequently, we are not shy about tooting our own horn when it is well-deserved and explaining to our readers/viewers/etc. why what we have done is valuable and how it impacts their lives. Perhaps this is due to the fact that small orgs and start-ups are on shakier financial ground and need to make their case more urgently. But I sense there’s something else going on there. They’re not only interested in their long-term survival, but also in making certain their work is meaningful to people and not just becoming tomorrow’s proverbial fish wrap. 

I was in a local grocery store yesterday and there was a table set up with free copies of that day’s Chicago Sun-Times. I overheard the gentleman manning the table telling a shopper how despite all the newsroom cuts, the paper has still managed to win Pulitzer Prizes and do great reporting. The shopper seemed unimpressed and why should he be? We have got to do better than that.


  1. Carrie Brown-Smith July 18, 2011

    Totally agree. This is critical. When I worked at the Committee of Concerned Journalists in the early 00s this was a big part of our argument – great journalism MUST also show people why they should care. It sucks that we have to do this, but it’s the reality we live with.

  2. Anna Tarkov July 18, 2011

    Carrie, great to hear that this was being discussed in the early part of the decade. Given that fact, it’s too bad that we haven’t made bigger strides in this and that indie, non-profit outlets lead in this area while the legacy media needs to do a great deal more. Personally I don’t think it sucks that we have to do this. I consider it part and parcel of the mission of journalists to provide a vital public service to a healthy democracy. And if no one is being served, are we really doing our jobs?

  3. Carrie Brown-Smith July 20, 2011

    True. I just meant that in an ideal world, the public would easily recognize and demand good journalism without quite as much work on our parts. :) But yes, I do this it is part and parcel of the mission, as you say.

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