Monday, May 25, 2009

Dan Conover's vision of news

Conover has taken his previously noted "2020 vision" and combined it with a follow-up "The lack of vision thing," into a long but thought-stimulating post for AEJMC's "2020 vision" project looking at the future of news.

I think he's hit on something here:

My first reporting job wasn’t for a newspaper, but for NATO. My armored cavalry troop drove jeeps along the borders of East Germany and Czechoslovakia and watched for activity on the other side of the fences. When we spotted something interesting, we recorded it in a highly structured way that could be accurately and quickly communicated over a two-way radio, to be transcribed by specialists at our border camp and relayed to intelligence analysts in Brussells.

Since the audience for this reporting was comprised entirely of intelligence experts, and since the ultimate value of such trivia is its ability to be stored in ways that might eventually indicate a pattern, my ability to communicate information accurately and quickly was prized. My ability as a storyteller? Utterly insignificant.

A print journalist is supposed to do both things well, but truth be told, if you can’t tell a good story in a compelling way, your print-reporting career is toast. Weak reporter? We’ll coach-you-up. Fundamentally clueless as a writer? Consider another line of work.

Journalism is a profession for storytellers, and our newsroom culture celebrates romantic myths that are generally hostile to structure. We enjoy jockeying with authority, poking bureaucrats and annoying anal-retentive city editors. Few journalists are good with numbers, and we don’t see that as a weakness. It’s all part of a rebellious “ink-stained wretch” identity that hasn’t reflected reality in at least a generation, if in fact it ever did.

As I said, worth reading and thinking about.

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