Imagine you had to change your appearance and the way you communicate. Let’s say that, for one reason or another, you could no longer speak freely and had to find new ways to express your messages – perhaps you moved to a place where they don’t speak your language, or your voice changed and you could no longer control it. At the same time, you also lost control over your appearance through illness, disabilty or homelessness.
All these things have happened to journalists in the past 20 years. We’re finding a new voice — in fact, many new voices — but it’s taking time to master new forms of expression. First there was “shovel ware” — stories that worked in print, uploaded to less than enthusiastic responses. Then there was “online first” — but it turned everything into a frenetic race to break stories first, before verifying the facts in the careful ways they had always used. We lost credibility. Some are getting it back. Others never will.
Meanwhile, we’re reshaping our appearance, throwing everything out there via multimedia and seeing what works. Our videos too often look like the Blair Witch Project. Some media fired the photographers and discovered the average reporter isn’t that good at taking pictures. Everyone cut staff, after hemorrhaging money, insisting they could do the same job with less, online. It ain’t working.
Journalists have discovered a tremendous bonus in the internet: an ability to engage with readers in new and better ways. But we haven’t yet mastered those new ways. We are using new social media with varying levels of success. Discussions and comments tend to degenerate into name-calling and vitriol. We’re still trying to recover from enthusiastically posting everything online for free.
It’s a mess. A great big, creative mess. Ain’t it great?