Thursday, July 07, 2005

Some quotes to think about

In catching up on my reading, I've come across a couple of quotes I think are worth rolling around in your head.

From a story in Campus Technology about students using mobile devices to access campus Web portals:

Importantly, there is one small but crucial distinction between the glance at a watch and one at the time display on a cell phone: The watch keeps its own particular time, but the cell phone tells its owner what time the rest of the world thinks it is. Because the time is constantly updated via synchronization with a mobile phone service, the cell phone display works more like a newsfeed than a personal appliance. (John Savarese, April 2005 18:8)
To me, that sounds a lot like a metaphor for the current state of media affairs, especially in news. Our customers are now constantly connnected to the world, and unlike the past, each of us -- journalist or journalism operation -- is a smaller player in it. We have to get used to that.

From Simon Waldman, digital publishing director for the UK's Guardian Newspapers, in an ethics roundtable on Online Journalism Review last August (I told you I was catching up):

Get the story right. Get it out there as quickly as possible. Do it in that order, and you will have no problems. Do it the other way round, and after a while you won't be taken seriously. It doesn't matter if you're a blogger with a dozen readers a day, or a major news organization with a million or more.
I think that one should be engraved on top of every newsroom door.

And, if you will permit a bit of immodesty, I wrote this to a student today who is interning on a small community paper but is chafing at all the goings-on in London. "With everything that is going on in the world, especially today, it's killing me to be covering the ground-breaking of the new senior center and (this town's) finest produce stand, but you do what you have to."

Just a thought: That senior center and produce stand are very important to a lot of people -- more so than what happened in London today. With one story, you're probably having a more direct impact on their lives than CNN, Fox, the New York Times ... and the networks combined. Just ask them sometime -- they really do arrange their lives sometimes by what you tell them. Think of that family that's been trying to find a good place for grandma to live or spend her days, the mother who wants fresh veggies for her kids. If you write with those people in mind, you'll make a difference, it will show in your work, and you'll eventually get where you want to be.
I wish I could convince more students of that.


At 7/7/05, 3:18 PM, Blogger Paul Conley said...

I wish both of us could convince more students of that.
But perhaps we would be wiser to accept that many...perhaps even most...of the students drawn to journalism have personalities that are remarkably ill-suited to our profession.
There are jobs where arrogance is an advantage -- commodities trading, investment banking, sales, etc.
But journalism is not such a place.

At 7/7/05, 8:10 PM, Anonymous Mark Hamilton said...

But you can also ask, why are we sending people who are trained to go, see and report to a ground-breaking ceremony, which is a public relations event and more often than not seen by newspapers not as an exercise in journalism, but an exercise in being seen "doing the job?"

At 7/8/05, 10:10 AM, Blogger Paul Conley said...

We send them so they can "go, see and report." Just because a public-relations executive would see value in a ground-breaking ceremony doesn't mean that there's not news value there too. If nothing else, such ceremonies are full of local politicians, community leaders, business people and regular folks worth meeting.
But most importantly, you send a reporter to such things because such things are of value to the community. As Doug said, "Think of that family that's been trying to find a good place for grandma to live or spend her days."
Now of course a gifted reporter wouldn't stop at the ground-breaking ceremony. He'd look outside the ceremony for the more compelling story. That's the great lesson of Breslin's gravedigger story from the JFK assassination.
The gifted reporter would find the grandma. The gifted reporter would visit the rundown nursing home across town. The gifted reporter would find the small-business man who has run a nursing home for 30 years and now faces the loss of his business to a tax-subsidized rival with a fancy ground-breaking ceremony.
The gifted reporter would do most anything other than complain that he wasn't reporting a "bigger" story.

At 7/8/05, 12:36 PM, Anonymous mark Hamilton said...


Good story ideas all but I note that almost all of them can be done without attending the PR event. Jimmy Breslin got his amazing report because he left the official ceremonies.


At 7/8/05, 2:14 PM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

I think we lose sight of the fact that if that groundbreaking is what people will talk about, then it's news. We would well entertain a story/post about such an even on a citizen's journalism page; sometimes I think we have to go show our faces, too. As for the Breslin comment -- yes, but first he went to the official site just to see what was going on and who was there. He only left for Arlington after deciding the rest of the herd was at the official site. In a small community, there may be no rest of the herd. Both of you have good points: Sometimes you need to go, but our failing is that we too often then just make it a process story.

At 7/8/05, 10:52 PM, Blogger Paul Conley said...

Doug, I think perhaps you're making my point more clearly than I am.
The question isn't to what sort of event should we send a reporter. The question is what sort of reporter should we send to an event?
I submit we send the industrious reporter, not the arrogant one. We send the reporter who is naturally curious, not the one who is easily bored.


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