I often get frustrated when I hear people rag on the media and complain about the lack of quality journalism out there these days, as though newspeople all got together one day and decided we were just going to start phoning it in.
Yes, original, quality reporting might not be as bountiful as one might hope for, but unless you’re 1) paying for your news, and/or 2) regularly clicking on and reading the important-issue stories (as opposed to, you know, the ones about what Kim Kardashian said this week), then you’re complicit in the problem.
Freelance writer Anya Wassenberg recently wrote a piece for The Huffington Post Canada called Want Meaningful, Original Journalism? Then Start Paying For It. It had me internally waving my hands in the air and screaming, “Preach!”
She lays out what really goes into writing an original piece of journalism.
What it boils down to is this: Time and money. To write a standard 500 to 750 word article in the old-fashioned newspaper style means phone calls, maybe even in-person appointments and research, along with searching the Internet. That means, even under ideal conditions, I can turn in maybe two of those in a typical work day. Ideal conditions means that the information and people I need to access are immediately available. If not, it might stretch to a couple of days, even a week or more to put everything together.
In this model, journalism is a full-time job with full-time wages.
Good journalism is expensive, and unfortunately, the way things work in our corporate media environment, if readers aren’t paying for it (everything should be free on the internet, right?) — or at the very least, clicking on it — then it won’t get made.
I’ve seen the numbers firsthand. There is analytics software that shows not only how many people click on a particular story, but how far down the page they actually read. And let me tell you, as someone who got into this field because she believed in the power of media to inform and engage people on important social issues, I find the reality pretty grim.
Back when I was still in the daily newsroom, the stories about Justin Beiber and and Rob Ford’s antics far, far outperformed stories about the the political situation in Syria or massacres in Nigeria. In a digital world where “data-driven decision making” is all the rage, the data doesn’t look so good for quality journalism on meaningful topics.
Of course, when it comes to the fate of the news media, there are no simple answers. But before you start pointing fingers, remember we’re all responsible, readers included, for making sure that good journalism rises to the top.
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