Are Reporters Doomed? Cont’d

My good friend John Kelly, who’s in Oxford studying Proto-Neo-Techno-Journalism [or whatever it’s called], posted on his Voxford blog an excellent and typically hilarious response to Brit media guy David Leigh’s provocation [published in print!] titled “Are Reporters Doomed?”

Essentially, Leigh says the focus on PNTJ ™ is too much about technology and not enough about journalistic values. As more non-journalists join the scrum, the values of what he calls “Slow Journalism” (by which he means high-quality traditional journalism of the sort that’s been delivered on paper for centuries) will be buried and lost.

Kelly says no, the new competition is good. Market competition will allow quality, experienced practitioners of journalism who embody the important journalistic values yet embrace new delivery platforms simultaneously to rise to the top of the ever-growing crap-heap online.

At the risk of bastard-slapping my good friend John Kelly, whose writing is excellent and typically hilarious, I fear both arguments may be motivated more by sentiment and self-interest than by what’s really good for readers/users/visitors/whatever they’re called.

Both guys seem to think that journalists–and by that they appear to mean the folks who are really good with words, did well in the Humanities in college, spend recreational time reading quality periodicals published on paper, and tend to think in that linear way so much exposure to nouns and adverbs can cause–should still be running the show and safeguarding the “values” family jewels.

But when I look at the PNTJ ™ landscape I see important creations that frankly none of these wordmasters could have conceived. To name three:

  • The Issues Tracker at washingtonpost.com, by the wp.com politics team and DayLife
  • The nytimes.com’s Debate Analyzer, created by the team of Shan Carter, Gabriel Dance, Matt Ericson, Tom Jackson, Jonathan Ellis, Sarah Wheaton
  • usatoday.com’s Candidate Match Game, created by a team of nine folks (sorry, their names were on a flash module, so I couldn’t cut and paste)

These are powerful acts of journalism that involve users with the substance of the ’08 campaign. In my estimation, they are “better” journalism–if we define that as delivering facts to the public that engage and inform them on the vital events of our times–than these three papers’ A-list columnists are likely to produce on the ’08 presidential race.

And yet: I suspect that as long as members of the linear-words-Humanities-New Yorker squad are running journalistic operations, they’ll still overvalue (and fund) 57-inch scene pieces and 60-inch policy thumbsuckers above the tools for advanced understanding cited above. They will continue to do this even on the papers’ Web sites, where the usability of that kind of work is even worse than it is in print. They will continue to whine that there is not sufficient revenue to find journalism in the public interest.

As Proto-Neo-Techno-Journalism ™ matures, the people who conceive and deliver journalism of the sort I’ve cited should increasingly run the show. If we don’t permit that to happen–if we fight it in the name of “values” and “integrity” and “journalistic tradition”–it may be time for the self-interested sentimentalists to stand down.

Explore posts in the same categories: journalism, media, print-to-digital

11 Comments on “Are Reporters Doomed? Cont’d”


  1. […] Are Reporters Doomed? Cont’d « Web 2.Oh. . .really? “They seem to think that journalists should still run the show, safeguarding the “values” family jewels. But when I look at the new media landscape I see important journalistic creations that frankly no wordmaster could have conceived. To name 3…” (tags: journalism journogeek creativity tools adversarial media+evolution tidbits+fodder) […]

  2. Karen Vogel Says:

    Um…did you say you were a friend of John Kelly? Are you sure? Still?

    And, dammit, I like the New Yorker. What’s so wrong with that?

  3. Craig Stoltz Says:

    Not only is John Kelly a friend of mine, he and I wrote a book together than is out of print.

    More important, he was kind enough, several years ago, to have a heart attack that was intended, clearly, for me. I am forever in his debt. Including John Kelly’s Voxford on my blogroll is just one small way I seek to repay him.

    Hey, if you want to read the New Yorker, nobody’s stopping you. But blogging is so much easier!

  4. Karen Vogel Says:

    The sites you refer us to do involve the user, but are they good journalism? While it is useful to have what’s being said at different sites on the web all compiled in one place, you still need someone to do the responsible, in-depth reporting in the first place.

    Are you any relation to Clifford Stoltz (The Cuckoo’s Egg author), by any chance?

  5. John Kelly Says:

    Craig you ignorant slut.

    Kidding! I know for a fact Craig isn’t ignorant. (Or a slut. There, I said it.) In fact, we agree on a lot of things. Where do we diverge? I think Craig thinks this is a “whole new ballgame,” that Web 2.0 “changes everything.” That the only way for newspapers to survive is to….wait, scratch that. Newspapers won’t survive, SHOULDN’T survive. And because they’re going to die a slow, ugly death anyway, we may as well kill them, blow them up and in their place build…what?

    Widgets, apparently. Little clicky gimmicks that allow you to compare presidential candidates the way you can compare items on eBay. I’m not necessarily against that. I once recommended to our religion editor at The Post that he should print a big chart comparing all the world’s religions so people could decide if they wanted to convert. You know, categories like “sex before marriage,” “afterlife,” etc.

    Where I’m uncomfortable with Stoltz’s maverick ways is in his slash-and-burn worldview. There used to be a saying you heard all the time: “That’s the beauty of the Web.” Well, as it turned out, it’s not so easy to be web-beautiful. Just porting over dry newspaper content is wrong. But so, I think, is deciding that Web readers don’t have the attention spans to read a thoughtful, well-written, long(ish) piece of journalism online. If newspapers are doomed, where are they going to read it, if not online? And if they sincerely won’t then perhaps we need to be more creative about how we do that. Or, just maybe, it means that if the desire is there those who are interested will continue to read newspapers, just not in numbers as large as before.

    Where the kill-them-all-and-let-god-sort-it-out crowd gets it wrong, in my view, is in thinking that the only way this new stuff will succeed is if it kills off the old stuff. But people still walked after the invention of the bicycle. And biked after the invention of the car. And listened to the radio after the invention of the television. And walked to their cars after the invention of the Internet.

    I won’t hide my self-interest, or my belief that being an English major (whoo-hoo!) and a seasoned journalist imbues me with some…thing. Perhaps not a BETTER thing (we’re not allowed to say that journalists are “better” than ordinary people anymore) but a DIFFERENT thing that suits me for doing a certain job. That job is to collect, analyze and disseminate information in forms that fit the circumstance. That might mean writing a New Yorker article. It might mean writing a cartoon caption. Neither one is any more or less worthy than the other.


  6. I have to say I think Leigh is arguing from a point of slight ignorance. I responded to his comments on my blog last week (http://onlinejournalismblog.com/2007/11/05/web-culture-%e2%80%9cdegrades-valuable-things-a-rant-at-david-leigh/) – here’s the gist:
    * Web culture “degrades valuable things”? Such as “the idea of discrimination? That some voices are more credible than others? One word: Google. Google’s success is built on the need to find the valuable in a sea of crap. Google’s success is built on discrimination. Now, its version of credibility is not the same as newspapers’: it is built on a number of things, including relevance of content and who links to it (including their credibility, so a link from the BBC is worth more than a link from your mum), but that doesn’t mean that the valuable is degraded, or credibility. It just means the decision is more delegated and aggregated.
    * Pamphleteers were 18th century bloggers? No. Pamphleteers were publishers in the traditional sense. They published, you read. There was no commenting facility on pamphlets. You could not link to a pamphlet and say what was factually incorrect. Pamphlets didn’t have linkback.

    PS: Some examples there I wasn’t aware of – thanks.


  7. […] post, Are Reporters Doomed, Cont’d – which I found at Amy Gahran’s Contentious links, tipped me off to Kelly being at […]


  8. […] a strong professional disagreement, especially one in which he is so tragically wrong. [See this entry of mine in response to John’s entry on the whole are-reporters-doomed controvery.  John responds to […]


  9. […] Kelly, the WaPo reporter at Oxford studying cit j’lism left this comment on the “Are Reporters Doomed? cont’d” […]

  10. bentrem Says:

    Thanks for the pointer to Issue Tracker.

    I went back to Jon Udell’s blog (where he mentioned the NYTimes site) to share it and, in one of the other comments, found this interesting (Java based) project:
    http://www.neoformix.com/Projects/TranscriptAnalyzer/index.html

    BTW: not “doomed” unless they don’t transform; my theory is that we need each of us to act as an authentic rapporteur.

  11. Craig Stoltz Says:

    Bentrem–Thanks for this link. Anybody reading these comments: do yourself a favor and check out the neoformix link above. Some mindblowing data visualizations.


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