By Richard Sharpe
I’m optimistic about the future of journalism.
Why, you ask, when there’s so much to be pessimistic about:
• Publishers are in a perfect storm of recession and a challenge of digital media;
• Contract/customer publishing is challenging the independence of journalism as magazines especially become an arm of branding;
• User generated content is challenging the privileged position journalists used to hold; and
• Journalists are losing their jobs at a seemingly ever increasing rate as publications fold.
Still I’m optimistic. And the clue is in the word “content”. Many journalists hate the word. “We’re not content generators,” they say, “we’re journalists.” But content is the key to a revival of the role of journalists.
Content starts the circle
Because it’s content that starts the circle of content begetting community begetting cash which is the mantra of online publishing. No quality content and no community. No community and no cash.
Publishers exploiting the online media have more often than not gone for volume. They have struggled to integrate the management of digital technologies into their organisations, often creating confusion and complex organisations. They have wanted high numbers of visitors to sell those eyeballs on.
More of the same
This has led to not a greater variety of content online but just a lot more of the same. That is the conclusion of a long research project at Goldsmiths College the results of which are now out in the book ‘Comment is free, facts are sacred: Journalistic ethics in a changing mediascape’. It is edited by Graham Miekle and Guy Redden and published by Palgrave Macmillan.
Good journalism can, however, triumph. We have a shining example in the Daily Telegraph’s MPs expenses expose. They paid for the source material: but it is not cheque-book journalism. They had to research the stories, pace the coverage and keep the campaign going in a masterly fashion to have such an impact.
Content can be king. That is why ETC’s new e-learning website is called ContentETC.
But it can’t be any old content nor the content everybody else has.
Three words describe the content which can revive the spirits of journalists: exclusive, original and quality.
• Exclusive: breaking stories nobody else has, as the Telegraph shows, wins readers and attention. Topping and tailing press releases just makes journalists another step in marketing campaigns.
• Original: write in an original way using more advanced writing techniques and readers will be more willing to read the whole story and be entertained at the same time.
• Quality: this means fit for purpose. Putting yourself in the shoes of the reader and telling them the impact this event has on them is another key. Just watch how the Daily Mail does it and you’ll get the point.
Start an investigative campaign
I recently consulted for a leading specialist weekly using this mantra. Their news was mostly long, flat and mostly focused on the process. “XWZ has announced…” We brainstormed methods of generating more news without adding to their burdens. They seemed convinced that the ideas generated would save them time. Then I suggested using that time to launch a series of investigative campaigns. These would generate their exclusive news. They left the session with their tails high.
Focusing on exclusive, original and quality content can re-energize journalists, transform publications and attract readers. Try it and see if I’m not right.