Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Why attacks on journalists are inevitable

The attack on the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo that killed at least 12 people today is probably the largest deliberate killing of Western journalists since the bombing of the Los Angeles Times a century ago.  It draws attention to the fact that journalism is becoming an increasingly dangerous profession and reminds us that at least 61 journalists were killed worldwide in 2014 alone.

It may sound indifferent, but such attacks actually signify an important reality: journalism matters.

In an age where so much “journalism” involves coverage of entertainment, celebrities, fashion, food, and lifestyle topics, journalists that question social values and pursue accountability in ways that anger or offend should to be celebrated. Nobody attacks those who write or say insignificant things. Asking questions that some people don’t want asked is journalism at its best and that kind of journalism needs to be revered.

Charlie Hebdo has a history of lampooning politicians and providing irreverent commentary on politics, religion, and popular culture meant to spark public discussion and debate. It has faced backlashes before.  Whether it can survive to do so again is uncertain.  Even if it doesn’t, other voices will continue to raise important questions about society and the world in which we live.

It is regrettable that carrying out journalism can lead to death and injury and we need to denounce such attacks and do all we can to prevent them. But we also need to take pride in journalists whose information and ideas are so consequential it results in their deaths.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

The growing newsroom struggle over journalistic narrative and presentation

The majority of newsroom hires in many news organizations today are digitally oriented personnel with titles such as web developer, data scientist, interactive digital designer, social media editor, engagement manager, and digital content editor.

These job titles say a great deal about news organizations' strategies of servicing audiences across platforms. They also reflects the reality that screens are now the primary way most people get information and entertainment and that visual display of information has increasingly become the norm in recent decades. There is now a public expectation that news and information will be conveyed with some visual display of information, such as infographics, slideshows, multimedia presentations, mapping, interactive graphics and data bases, video and interactive video, and calculators.

The growth in digitally oriented personnel in newsrooms is producing a growing struggle about how news stories should be told and what forms they should take. Traditional journalists steeped in third person, inverted pyramid, short-form journalism are uncomfortable with literary and long-form approaches, first person narrative, non-sequential revelation, visual presentations, and data-driven exposition that bring out their numeric anxiety.

The struggle between digital personnel and textually oriented journalists is similar to earlier tensions between typesetters, page compositors and journalists created because printing technology and layout dictated story style, provided great power over the length and presentation of stories to the backshop, and produced conflicts when backshop demands overrode journalists' preferences.

The appearance of phototypesetting removed the role of typesetters and moved production to the newsroom, giving journalists and editors primary control over content. That change produced 3-4 decades of rule of writers over production and journalistic style. Today, however, the new digital personnel are challenging that dominance, developing ways of presenting news and information, and forcing new methods into news production that conflict with the text-based traditions of legacy media and journalism.

The tensions and debates these changes produce are good for journalism because they reminds us that it is not the form of journalistic writing and news provision that is important, but the conveying of accurate and fair information in ways that explain the world. We will undoubtedly see more novel ways of conveying news emerge as the software driving digital communications continues to develop and is integrated further into newsrooms. This will force many to recognize that it is not the form of journalism, but its function that is important.