Tuesday, May 25, 2004

It's called journalism ...
Haven't posted in a few days because I've been using some time between semesters to get caught up on my reading (not to mention having some big trees taken down in my yard). But I've been doing some catch-up in Presstime, and what I read there on all the new readership initiatives dismays me a little.
No, I'm not dismayed by the idea that journalists (OK, publishers and exec editors)are at least mouthing the idea of getting back into the neighborhoods and of paying attention to all of the community (i.e., young as well as old). It's good to hear the recognition that there's real news that happens there, even if much of that recognition is born of desperation.

My dismay comes from the gimmicky nature of a lot of it and the lack of recognition that we haven't cured the underlying ills.

One exec trumpets how his paper is recruiting people in the community to report and edit mini zoned editions. Another notes how reporters are instructed to make a beeline not just for the oldest person in the room but for the youngest -- and to get the ages of everyone interviewed so the paper can make sure it's covering all parts of the spectrum. Yet another, of course, has to label it: "micro-news," I assume to avoid the label of "chicken-dinner news" that had become an epithet in some newsrooms.

When I was a wee tyke in this business, I had some good teachers, news directors and editors, and I remember them telling me this:
-- Ages are a natural part of identification to make sure we know which Mary Jones we're talking to. Get them.
-- Talk to everyone you can to make sure you get a good cross-section of what people are thinking.
-- Get out on the street. Walk the neighborhoods; visit with secretaries and janitors at city hall, the police station and the board of education building.
-- If there's a fire near a bridge, the story probably isn't really about the fire but about how it caused a traffic jam on the bridge and everyone got home late.
-- Understand that for every picture of a real person you can get in the paper or on TV, more people will read or watch you. Make it a picture of a kid, and you'll sell five more papers.

And that's what dismays me -- because nowhere in this do I see an acknowledgement that maybe our problems are that we have tied people too closely to their telephones, made them pump out copy, turned them into information processors.

In other words, there's no need to label it "micro-news" or audit the ages. It's journalism.


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