Wick Communications

The big unlearning

In journalism on April 20, 2017 at 11:39 am

I don’t know about you, but I have put decades of my life into newspaper reporting and editing, so I would like to feel that I have gotten better at it. That things like writing inverted pyramids, editing for AP style and proofing pages have become second nature and are meaningful.

It hurts a little to think that very expertise might be holding me back. However, I have a niggling feeling that may be the case.

Kristen Hare at Poynter has put together a fascinating series of interviews with local journalists about changes in the profession. This week, she asked a radio producer and a reporter for the interesting local journalism start-up Billy Penn an intriguing question: What sorts of things did they have to unlearn to be viable journalists in the second decade of the 21st century?

She framed it like this: “I’ve been thinking about the things I’ve seen newsrooms let go of, and it seems like they fall into three basic categories. One is stagnant culture. Two is a sense of confusion about our audiences and what they want, and three is just practices — how we do our jobs now.”

The journalists mentioned several things they had to stop doing. Perhaps the one that resonated the most for me had to do with deadlines and ownership of stories. Anna Orso of Billy Penn said that when she was a newspaper reporter, she filed a story by a particular time and was usually done with it. Someone else edited it and moved it into queues for print and web. Now, she loads it into WordPress, embeds video and engages readers of the work on Facebook and Twitter.

They also talk about giving up on the old inverted pyramid and “objective” writing. These are things that I want to hold on to, and I’ll tell you why. The point of the inverted pyramid is so busy people can give up on stories quickly and still get the gist. Why would we let that go? Are people any less busy or less distracted now than they were, say, 30 years ago? I don’t think so. …

And I continue to think there is a place for dispassionate reporting that is done in an objective manner. That doesn’t mean all reporting has to be done that way. There is certainly a place for a reporter’s voice. That is hardly a new thing to anyone who read Norman Mailer and Hunter Thompson 50 years ago. Perhaps as we settle into a web-based culture, that is increasingly true.

What things have you had to give up?

Clay

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