Pro journalism must stand out

If pro journalists want to have a job in the age of information overload, they need to play to their strengths.

This week a journalist told me he didn't have time to write better, and the BBC published a press release as news without any analysis or context.

It was also a week the Times gave us a completely one-sided story to suit its own purposes and the Guardian printed a profile whose angle was how difficult it is to write celebrity profiles.

Let's be clear: journalism is in crisis. The reasons are various but the scary thing is how many journalists seem determined to make things worse.

Some journalists seem driven to try and fill the web

Rushed, badly written copy and regurgitated press releases seem to be symptoms of the internet age. We should have moved beyond sisyphean journalism where writers are driven to try and fill the web. But sadly, it is alive and well inside some publishing companies. Journalists are still given targets for quantity but not for quality.

I can just about understand it when you have ad reps who like to talk to clients about volumes and page impressions. But there seems to be no excuse for the BBC to be caught in this trap.

Biased reporting, lacking in authority, and me-me profile writing are old-school crap. But they seem to thrive online.

The days are gone when, if you worked on Pencil Sharpener Today magazine, your main competition was Pencil Sharpener World. Thanks to Google, you now compete with anyone who puts the words pencil sharpener prominently on their website.  Among these will be some pretty talented amateur bloggers.

And the nature of the competition has changed too. Readers no longer decide between two print magazines and stick with their choice. If they care about a subject, they might look at 15 websites and the pro-journalist's will only be one of them. Having a brand is no longer enough to stand out from the crowd.

Bloggers have advantages over pro journos. Sometimes:
  • They react more quickly.
  • They are more passionate about their subjects.
  • They are more expert about their subjects.
  • They tend to communicate in a more direct and personal way.

But few pros (at least few of those I talk to) seem to think about playing to the advantages they have over the amateurs:
  • Better contacts.
  • Access to authoritative sources.
  • Better writing skills (if we concentrate).
  • Cross-fertilisation within teams and across publications.
  • Budgets for photography, freelances, illustrators (sometimes).
  • Access to technology specialists (in theory we can create technically better websites; in practice many of us are having to use outdated CMSs and practice a form of warfare with the IT department).

When journalists create the crisis

Notes:

  1. This story was entirely sourced using the internet -- feel free to shoot me down in flames.
  2. Apologies to journalists whose pieces I mention. Your were not the worst and they were by no means the only examples I could have chosen.