It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s … the Multi-Platform Journalist! She shoots photos and video! She records audio! She Tweets! She Facebooks! She Instagrams! She blogs!
And boy, is she exhausted.
Not to fear – we may be able give Madame Multi-Platform a break. Why? Because digital journalism – at once her ancestor and her offspring – is growing up.
And not a minute too soon, because, as you might’ve noticed, there’s something missing from that frenetic task list up there: Getting the Story.
Bright Shiny Objects … and Panic
In his 2010 book, I’ll Mature When I’m Dead, longtime Miami Herald humor columnist Dave Barry wrote about the newspaper industry’s panic-driven reaction to the rise of digital and social media:
“Newspaper editors are ordering the dwindling number of reporters to spend more and more of their time engaging in non-journalism, non-revenue-producing Internet activities such as Facebooking, making videos, podcasting, blogging, tweeting, fwirping, etc.”
He acknowledges in a footnote that:
“There is actually no such thing as fwirping, but if there were, and if it was something that people were doing on the Internet, editors would order reporters to do it.”
He’s right! In a panicked rush to remain relevant amid the shifting constellation of digital platforms, news organizations have grasped at every shiny new digital object. Journalists have been asked to throw stuff against scores of virtual walls to see what sticks.
We don’t all have to be digital experts anymore!
The good news is, some of that stuff was really great. There are now some shining examples of digital platforms being used to create and present real, meaningful journalism. Better yet, we’re now to the point where there are experts who know how use digital platforms effectively for journalistic purposes.
Perhaps that means we don’t all have to try to be digital experts anymore! Maybe news organizations will start hiring the real digital experts and take a few of the things off the plate of Madame Multi-Platform.
In fact, I would argue that course of action is imperative and urgent. Because we need to immediately …
Re-commit to basic reporting
As I see it, the years of panic-driven digital experimentation had another, very disturbing, side effect: a collective loss of focus on basic reporting and real journalism.
By no means did everyone retreat from these core principles, but let’s face it, when you have to file for three major platforms and “engage” on whatever social media are en vogue at the moment, it’s easy to forget about finding the crux of the story, the context that makes it relevant, the nuances of the arguments surrounding it. It’s hard to find time to dig for facts or track down reluctant sources.
Somewhere along the way, we got so worried about the “content” a reporter can “create” that we forgot about the need to tell meaningful stories. We got so excited about re-Tweets and Facebook likes and web hits that we lost focus on our mission to inform and enlighten.
The Pendulum Swings Back?
The new and growing cadre of digital journalism experts gives me hope.
Perhaps – and just hear me out on this – we can start to move beyond the idea that every journalist and every news organization must produce news on every platform.
I know that’s pretty radical in this age when multi-platform is gospel. Don’t misunderstand me – I’m not advocating a re-silo-ization of the news business. We’re never going back to the days of “I just do radio” (or your medium of choice).
But perhaps we can acknowledge that there are journalists and news outlets that are really good at one platform or another; and perhaps we can try to create a framework in which those people and outlets can survive and thrive by concentrating on their strengths instead of diluting that strength by trying to do it all.
Perhaps at the very least, news organizations will restructure their staffing so the digital experts are digital-ing, and other reporters have enough editorial and resource support to re-commit to their core responsibility: Getting the Story.