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Dragging journalists kicking and screaming into the future.

blue and yellow globe graphic, 6kExperienced leaders in the print journalism industry have much to bring to the table that could contribute to the emergence of online media. Unfortunately, too many dig their heels into tradition while new media journalists discount them as outdated. This is creating two distinct camps in the field: The idealists who believe technology will revolutionize the news media and the traditionalists who believe new media is killing pure journalism.

One of the most frustrating, but often uttered phrases in a newspaper's newsroom is, "This is how we've always done it." Newspaper journalism ranks at the top of the news media's credibility and integrity scale. It is an industry steeped in tradition, ethics, and standards. As such, it is also mired in self-preserving arrogance.

This arrogance is rooted in the fact that newspaper journalism is a pressure filled, fast-paced and challenging world in which those in the industry, as Dale Peskin, executive director of New Directions for News said, see "change from the driver's seat of a speeding vehicle… through a lens of convention, ritual, and self-interest."

To move into the new age of news, journalists must be prepared to open their minds to new ideas involving online media and other technologies. The two camps, the idealists and the traditionalists, would be more effective working together to further journalism... instead of holding each other back.

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"Arrogance and Flatulence" in ancient Greece

Dale Peskin crystallizes the consequences of journalistic arrogance with the story of Pythagoras, the Greek mathematician who formed a secret brotherhood to deny the existence of zero. With zero in mathematics, the universe (and Pythagoras's famed theorem) was not understandable and logical. When one member of the brotherhood, Hippasus of Metapontum, leaked the discovery of irrational numbers, Pythagoras sentenced him to death. Revealing the truth was too destructive to the Pythagoreans' sense of order.

Ultimately, Pythagorus's arrogance and refusal to accept new ideas led to his downfall. The secret brotherhood began to fall apart and those who opposed the mathematician set out to kill him. Pythagorus, a health nut who believed indigestion caused all disease and who had become afraid of beans because they caused flatulence, was chased until he came upon a bean field. He stopped short and said he'd rather die than run through it. His attackers cut his throat.

"Arrogance and eternal flatulence," wrote Peskin. "Pythagoras died for behaviors and beliefs that put him out of touch with the rest of the world."

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Aspects of online media that scare traditional journalists

Customization is a popular new feature for online news sites. With it, people read what they want to, not just what editors place on the front page. The concept of customization turns the agenda-setting paradigm on its head. No longer will the media tell people what to think about or what to think is most important. Now, readers will decide for themselves what news is most important to their lives.

Critics of customization argue that readers will no longer gain a broad view of the world, causing greater audience fractionalization. However, a well-planned site that mixes customized news content with important world, national and local headlines can keep news consumers appropriately informed while still giving them what they want most from the news.

Traditionalists also possess an aversion to audience collaboration. Print journalists are reared in their trade thinking of their audience as a group they serve while at the same time assuming that journalists know more than their average audience member. This is another paradigm that new media can upset. With instant response capabilities in the form of e-mail and newsgroups, journalists can be constantly connected to their readers and journalists should take advantage of the wealth of knowledge their readers possess.

According to author John Pavlik, "Journalists now need to think about a global audience that not only reads what they write and report, but can comment, provide perspective, and offer new insight into the complexities of an increasingly global society."

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Measuring success in a new field --
don't look at the money, yet

"Weighing money against innovation" graphic, 4kOften, media companies attempt to view two recent trends together: Declining profits and online media. They hope the latter will be a solution to the former - preferably, a quick solution. Instead, they should realize that great innovations seldom turn a quick profit.

Online media is out of its infancy, but not yet ready to stand on its own. Newspapers and other online media sources must plan for the long run and focus on advancing journalism over advancing profits. The end result will be a product that will be immensely profitable… once the kinks are worked out.

For reassurance, executives should take note of the growing audience for online media and experiment with new capabilities. Steve Outing of Editor & Publisher magazine quoted Knight Ridder executive Steve Rossi as saying, "fail fast, fail cheaply" regarding new innovations. In short, exploration is what is important and all exploration involves losing money on a few failed ventures before success can be claimed.

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References and related work:

 

In this section:

Dragging journalists kicking and screaming into the future

"Arrogance and flatulence" in
ancient Greece


Aspects of online media that scare traditional journalists.

Measuring success in a new field

 

Take note...

Time, Change, and the American Newspaper by George Sylvie and Patricia D. Witherspoon addresses the issues concerning change in the modern newspaper industry.

Among other topics, the authors discuss the incorporation of new technologies, including the Internet and various forms of online media, in the news gathering and production process.

This book can help journalists (of both new media and old) gain a better understanding of the changes in their industry. As online news sites become more prevalent, such understanding will be necessary to ease transitions and help reduce the inevitable resistance to change within the industry.

 

Audience collaboration
in the op-ed section

A prime example for the future of audience / media collaboration is the op-ed section of a daily newspaper. Many old-school journalists believe that editorials should serve the audience and influence readers. The modern media consumers, however, can frequently serve themselves and are not so easily influenced by the opinions of an editorial board.

For this reason, practices such as political endorsements are becoming antiquated. Instead of using space to tell readers what they should think, editorials should provide careful, objective analysis of pertinent issues or issues the editorial board would like to create a public dialogue about. More space could be devoted to letters to the editor and reader-written columns.

The idea behind audience collaboration is the difference between an active and passive audience. New media consumers are active participants and emphasis should be placed on collaboration and dialogue rather than the passive standard of service and influence.

 

 

 

Copyright © 2002 by Michele K. Jones.
Site last updated: April 17, 2002.