Monday, May 25, 2009

Sham Journalism

I was just going through a few of my back issues of TechCrunch (hey, I get bogged down a bit, need to catch up now and again) and I found an interesting article from last week regarding the world's oldest Tweeter from the UK. It seems that she's on Twitter, at 104 years old, to talk about her 104 year old life, not the history of her 104 years in the UK, or anything more interesting. The rub, of course, is that she isn't talking about anything. At all. She signed up for Twitter. She sent two tweets. She stopped. Her first tweet was apparently, "I'm enjoying Twitter for the first time and having my photo taken" (credit the TechCrunch article). That's it, though. She hasn't really used it... she just mentioned that she was using it and getting her picture taken. That is, of course, because that's all there was to it. Apparently, the rumors say, the UK media convinced innocent Ivy Bean to sign up for Twitter in order to put out a story.

Now, I won't dive into the concept that Twitter is so hot these days that people will do anything to capitalize on the concept. No need to mention Mr. Ashton Kutcher and his publicity race against CNN for the most Twitter followers. Also, I could mention that I, personally, am attempting to at least get double digit subscribers to my blog, so if you wouldn't mind going and doing that... (shameless, I yes, I know).

The problem has less to do with the topic of the story than it does that sham of the story itself. There isn't a story. At all. And this story was fabricated for the sake of telling a story and selling papers. One of the papers, The Sun, was so poor that they even screwed up a simple fact - the headline lists her as 103 instead of 104. They got the age wrong. Honestly? You can't even get that simple fact right, when it's the core of the fictitious story?

This is what bugs me. There is an article that I desperately want to find that I read about three weeks ago. It comes from an interview with something of an expert in the news industry, and when asked how many of the newspapers should be saved, he replies that there are a handful of solid journalists who need to be saved, but most of the newspapers can go. The above sham Twitter article is proof of this particular issue. Journalism is dying. People want the quick fix, the quick hit, and then to move on to the next story, without doing any of the in depth work to make true news breaks. That's fine for CNN, where you just get the headlines, and fantastic for news radio... but is that all we are anymore? A series of bullet points?

Listen, I work for a newspaper company. The company has been around for over a hundred years, and still prints papers, and still does a solid job of digging up news in the respective communities. We have articles that research stories, and go into depth. Sometimes, when a story has a lot more information to it, a lot more meat, we continue covering the story, researching and reporting for multiple weeks. Imagine that - we are a newspaper that actually practices true journalism! Me, I'm the web director, and it is my job to help this company make its way forward in the digital world. Funny thing is, I never talk about newspapers dying, the extinction of print, or anything of that nature. My father's position on newspapers explains it all - when he wants to know the immediate headlines, he flips on the radio while driving to work, checks out online news bullets after reading his email, or checks out the TV news. When he wants to actually understand a story, however, he moves to a newspaper. This, of course, is the key - and whether you do it in an online or a print setting, it is the core of what newspapers are, and should continue to be - investigative journalism. Reporting. Digging. Telling the whole story. And this is what most news organizations don't do anymore, at all. Yet, we as a society clearly have some interest if we continue to listen to the new details regarding the Major League Baseball steroid scandals, the political machinations of Middle Eastern countries, or any myriad other items that get perpetual coverage.

So, the question remains, what ever happened to real journalists? They must be out there somewhere. I know that I have read a few newspapers and websites here and there that have a few true journalists. It's the sad amount of increased sensationalism that clouds the picture. If we could elevate the percentage of true journalists within our newspaper organizations, world wide, it would save the industry that is print, very easily. You see, these days, content is king, and the better the content, the more in depth the reading, the higher the circulation. As I have been told before, it's all about a numbers game. Well, if you provide a quality product, the numbers will come. There is evidence of that in all walks of life. And if you stage articles regarding the next hot thing... well, then just maybe you deserve to go under after all.

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