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“You’re totally wrong,” or, how I can single-handedly diagnose and save all of journalism

February 11, 2009

Here’s a description of what one new media guru (who’s actually kind of an old dude, so take hard, Old Guard of a Dying Industry, you too can learn new ways) has to say about teaching young journalists. I share this because it strikes me that for all the buzz of these blingy new tools–Video! Podcasts! Shiny shiny social networking!–new media is about to make the same mistakes as the Old Dying Industry did.

Jeff Jarvis, old new media dude, has this to say:

    There’s not a second to waste. [Journalists] should all be learning the skills of this new world. They are easy to learn. I’ve accused print people of acting like priesthood, but the online folks did the same thing. These tools are easy and fun to teach, we should be teaching them generously. Get a Flip camera, start doing videos. Enter into conversations, learn about it. Then look for opportunities.

The premise here is that these newbies are in this world for the journalism first, and the platform second. Here’s another blip:

    Students should be able to make video from scratch; everybody learns Final Cut as our primary tool. They all learn blogs. The program is called interactive journalism. It’s hard to teach interactivity without a public to interact with. They have to find a community and try to add journalism to it.

Now, I can make a video “from scratch,” and it’s much easier than other things I’ve tried to make from scratch, like challah bread. Any idiot with mildly off vision and a basic proclivity for keyboards can shoot some scenes and stitch them together in FinalCut. (On the other hand, one of my favorite college professors, who makes the best challah I’ve ever had, insists it’s simply over for me.)

But are they going to be worth watching? It depends on the information.

And that brings me around to my objection. I am one of the clan who believes that the problem with newspapers isn’t that they’re printed on paper; it’s that they’re boring. They’re made to be boring. Journalists like me go to fancy-pants graduate programs where they teach us to make the most fascinating stuff as boring as possible by stripping away nuance, reducing conflict and causalities and taking it out of order and putting it in journalism-speak, aka “the inverted pyramid,” where you get the “most important” thing first, the second most important second, and so on.

Now sometimes there are good reasons to do this. You haven’t seen me blog about the interrelationships between the 24 armed groups running around Congo, for instance. Because they’re too complicated (and I don’t even understand them). But most of the time, it makes things so simplistic, they’re wrong.

That’s why people like blogs. And YouTube. And podcasts. They introduce to a world whose basic elements we can recognize, even if they’re foreign. Sarcasm, shame, fear, pride–these are universal, and a good reporter knows them when she sees or hears them.

But if you take a reporter and say, “The way to get a job is to be able to blog AND make videos AND twitter,” without ever teaching them that none of those things will succeed if they don’t manage to convey the intimacy of real life and the humanity of real people, then your website’s going to flop, too.

So I think Jarvis is wrong. The answer to the media problem isn’t teaching kids to use FinalCut. It’s teaching them how to distinguish between the crap they shouldn’t even digitize and the gold they should edit like the product will be a family heirloom. That, I think, is is the real lesson of the Old Guard’s failure in the “stewardship of journalism.” The platform, and all the fancy accessories in its lexicon, are just a distraction.

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 12, 2009 4:24 am

    This is why I continue to read, Jina. Most of what you write about sometimes goes over my head, but posts like these seem specifically tailored to me.

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