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What does the journalism of the future look like?

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We’ve spent so long consuming the news in fairly predictable formats — the short story, the long feature, the four-part series designed to win awards, the TV documentary, and so on — that the new forms of journalism we’re seeing can be confusing. Perhaps not surprisingly, there is also some controversy over whether one form is replacing or usurping another form. Frederic Filloux revisits this debate in a Monday Note post, in which he takes issue with Jeff Jarvis’s stance on real-time journalism. But all of these new forms have the potential to broaden the field of journalism and media immensely, and that’s a good thing.

Filloux’s blog post, entitled “Jazz Is Not a Byproduct of Rap Music,” is a response to something Jarvis wrote several weeks ago, in which the author and New York University City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism professor argued that the news article — the central unit of storytelling that we have become familiar with in newspapers and other forms of media — should no longer be the default for every news event. In many cases, Jarvis said, the article or story should be seen as a “value-added luxury or byproduct” of the process of news-gathering, rather than the central goal in every situation.

In place of the traditional story, Jarvis said we should be looking to the kind of real-time reporting and curating that some journalists have been doing with Twitter and other forms of social media including Tumblr — as New York Times (s nyt) reporter Brian Stelter did during the aftermath of a tornado in Joplin, Mo. recently, and as Andy Carvin of NPR has been doing during the Arab Spring. Said Jarvis:

Articles are wonderful. But they are no longer necessary for every event. They were a necessary form for newspapers and news shows but not the free flow, the never-starting, never-ending stream of digital. Sometimes, a quick update is sufficient; other times a collection of videos can do the trick.

In his post, Filloux takes issue with Jarvis’s view and argues that the story format is still necessary — in fact, he says that a comprehensive article following a news event like the uprisings in Egypt is even more necessary than it used to be, because someone needs to “understand and to correct excesses and mistakes resulting from an ever expanding flurry of instant coverage” via Twitter and other social media.

I made a similar argument in my response to Jarvis’s original thesis — my point being that we need more curation and context and analysis, not less, because of the ever-increasing tide of information we are being subjected to from all sides (not to mention the difficulty of verifying sources like the recent gay blogger in Damascus, which turned out to be a fiction). In a response, Jarvis said I misrepresented his views, something he also accuses Filloux of doing in a blog post responding to the Monday Note.

I think Jarvis and Filloux and I are all saying the same thing, although it might not look that way at first. Jarvis’s point, as I take it, is that there are too many stories written that add very little value — long chunks of background just to fill out the length of a piece, contributing nothing in the way of analysis, and so on. Stories are also written that duplicate, in some cases dozens or hundreds of times, the exact same information that is available elsewhere. This is undoubtedly true.

I think Jarvis is suggesting that in many cases, these articles are a waste of both the reporter’s time and the reader’s time, and that with the newspaper and media industry undergoing the kind of upheaval it is, we can ill afford to be wasting precious resources on such things. Better to link to other sources that have already reported the facts (“do what you do best and link to the rest,” Jarvis likes to say) and then add value through analysis, or move on to something else.

The point is that there are many new ways to accomplish journalistic goals to cover news and gather and share information: Twitter, blogs, data, visualization, multimedia…. then the article can concentrate on adding true value: context, explanation, education, commentary, further reporting [and] fact-checking.

Jarvis is right that there are so many more tools available to us now than we had in the past, and many of them — including Twitter and other social media — give us the ability to report in real-time in ways we never could before. And in addition to just reporting, services like Storify and Storyful can be used by reporters (as Andy Carvin has for a number of stories) to pull together reports about a topic, and add analysis to them in something approaching real time. After that, a traditional-looking news story might need to be produced — in part to serve those who may not be online or on Twitter all the time — or it might not.

Is that what the journalism of the future looks like? I think it’s a pretty good first step. None of these tools or approaches replace one another, any more than the web has replaced television — ideally, they feed into and inform each other, and smart journalists (professional or amateur) use them to make our knowledge of an event more complete and more understandable. And that’s a win-win situation for both journalism and society as a whole.

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr users Arvind Grover and Yan Arief Purwanto

23 Responses to “What does the journalism of the future look like?”

  1. I think what would help the discussion is to point out that newspapers and Twitter are just part of a continuum of Information Technology. And as anyone who’s worked in IT can tell you, different problems require different features and apps to filter, store, present, etc. the data.

    The challenge comes in is that organizations, people and processes are designed based on yesterday’s technologies and experiences – not tomorrow’s, so we take past approaches and apply them to the future because we have no other context to understand what we are looking at. This is true whether it’s Columbus describing the tropical rainforest as being perfect for grazing cattle (it’s not) or applying the traditional news article format to twitter.

    That said I think it would help to think of the traditional article as being a legacy app that works great but thanks to all the new technologies is being slowly replaced for many different functions that hadn’t even been thought of when it was initially developed but still delivers it core reporting value proposition fairly well. The problem is expectations and competing technologies continue to rise – and as a result the traditional article or news organization structure no longer can handle all the competing demands.

    So if we can agree reporting is just another form of IT, then it’s quite obvious that instead of a one-size fits all approach, there will be an ever increasing number of different “news” products to address the plethora of niche needs/opportunities. Like software in the old days only big corporations had the resources to develop technology, now anyone in their garage can write an app or an article.

    Given the fact that the pace of technological change will only increase, what’s being done to identify the core needs of our users to understand their pain points and what types of solutions we should be bringing to market?

    Could keep writing about applying personas and other software development techniques to news but need to go back to work on my startup, MyRepresentatives, which is focused on developing civic engagement tools designed to help you instantly find, follow and give feedback to your political representatives.

  2. @ Mark: I followed your “article as a luxury product”-discussion with Jeff during the last couple of days and I do agree that Jeff and you share a similar point of view. On the other hand there are obvious differences: Sure, and this is true, Jeff didn’t say the article as a storytelling form was obsolete. Nonetheless the central argument in his buzzmachine blogpost was that he claimed the article was a luxury or byproduct of the news production. My point is: If you do a functional analysis of the article as a storytelling form it can be characterized as the perfect instrument to deliver condensed relevant news information at a certain point of time. Thus I definitely disagree with Jeff on the status of the article-form in delivering news: The article is not a luxury or byproduct. It still has a position in the center of news storytelling. Radio didn’t change that. TV didn’t change that. And so far the web didn’t change that, either.
    For me the inner relationship between the unfiltered ongoing news stream and the pyramid style article is a complementary one. Maybe it can be unterstood with a simple metaphor comparing the items with a play bar (right word?) embedded in online audio or video players. In this metaphor the bar represents the ongoing linear chronological news stream. Live blogging for example is nothing else than a documentation of the ongoing news stream. It’s the bar. On the other hand the article is represented by the moving time marker: As the marker offers the possibility to pause at whatever point of time it symbolizes the possibility for a newsroom to put an editorial full stop into the ongoing news stream to answer the classical who-what-when-where. Just my five cents. Regards from Germany, Stefan (Hope my English worked…)

  3. liz Hannaford

    Interesting analysis which got me thinking along all sorts of lines. I have one very basic concern as we face this really exciting new world of open media. When are journalists supposed to sleep?? Seriously. If the article or radio/TV piece is no longer the final product, the journalist’s shift is never ending as he then has to stay up engaging with the audience members who comment. It presents a real challenge to traditional newsrooms, for example, as they grapple with new work flows. Or will we end up with a world where all our best journalists are insomniacs because nobody with normal sleep patterns can compete?

    • That’s a fair point, Liz — and one I have heard a number of journalist colleagues raise as well. It is definitely more of a 24-7 occupation now, but we still need to find ways of remaining sane and having normal personal lives as well.

  4. Great post, Mathew! I think that news is definitely is becoming more of a social process than static reporting ever was. This can become very complex as multiple voices find ways to be heard and the notion of “finding the truth” changes. Systemic theory comes into play here – we are more likely to arrive at truth if we consider the multiple diverse views – yes, I think this even applies to our news. This theory is explained in James Surowiecki’s book, The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations. I am excited to see what happens as journalism evolves to better represent the interconnectedness of our world- what an exciting time to be alive.

  5. Stephen

    I might suggest that this analysis, as excellent as it is, is only really relevant to world news type things. I’m not sure how it will play out with very specific niches like local news and specialty news.

  6. Walter Wright

    Now THAT’s a healthy breakfast….and news “stories” need to remain part of it, even more because of the tornado of instant input that is going to continue to grow and move faster. A reporter on the scene of almost anything is constantly separating the wheat from the chaff and–despite the old bromide–figuring out how to print the wheat. Today, the “scene” includes this storm of personal accounts and reactions, and readers don’t have the time to sort them out themselves.

  7. oncfari

    I think that we have a case of ships passing in the night, and both factions are completely missing the real issue here. It’s not about how much background is provided or the general context of a news item; it’s all about accuracy. Sometimes (often, these days) raw news needs validation more than it needs to be turned into a traditional news story. If making it into a news story does that, then so be it. But endless streams of Twittering rogue “reporters” does not give us “news” but rather a stream of drivel that we must then decide how to validate. So I don’t think the debate is about whether or not we need to turn every piece of news into a traditional news story, but rather how do we decide if it’s news at all? In addition, so much of the so called “news” today is littered with the opinions of those who should simply be providing the delivery that it’s increasingly difficult to identify raw news at all – sort of the ultimate irony!

  8. One thing that Jarvis and co seem to forget is the fact that newsrooms are depleted of bodies. This causes a major issue: we chase news releases instead of real news. The editor needs to restructure its workflow to adapt to this fundamental change. Until that happens, the lack of quality, in depth written reporting will suffer. I also think this is affecting the engagement from the advertisers….

    • That’s a good point, Jean — all of this is being done with fewer resources. But I think Jeff’s point is that using these new tools can help maximize those resources better than always defaulting to the traditional.

  9. richard lander

    Great read. Jarvis and Filoux are a case of handbags at 10 paces. They need to stick to Queensberry rules (oh hang on neither of them are British).

    Seriously though, the old saying is that journalism is the first draft of history and the article will continue to play a hugely important role in that context. It’s hard to see what context can be laid down for future reference in a bunch of tweets. Maybe Jeff Jarvis is in stock market terms a short-term trader?

  10. GREAT article.
    1. You may also find this interesting:
    2. For Gigaom purposes (to curate content here), check out our site (previously reviewed by Gigaon) –

    In the Economist article- there was one string of lines that I read which made me think that we at Memonic have a great solution – and it is sort of along the lines of when you say, above, “we need more curation and context and analysis, not less, because of the ever-increasing tide of information we are being subjected to from all sides”. ” The lines in The Economist read: “So far…publishers have behaved like hunter-gatherers of research….That means investing in search and data-management tools to make sure that relevant articles find their way to researchers”.

    At Memonic, we have just such a data management tool – or content management/knowledge curation tool.

    The basic iteration is what you can check out online for personal use (we offer Memonic for Enterprises and for Publishers as well).

    In essence, Memonic is a note taking application. It lets you clip any snippet from the web very quickly and easily, so you can research as you browse, collecting what you want (full articles, parts of articles, images, documents, etc) as you go along, and automatically organizing all this information in folders. To try it, go to Sign up for a free account. There is not even a need to install anything, you can just drag and drop our bookmarklet (the clipper, basically) from the homepage to your browser bar. With this, and with as little as just one friend also signed up, you can start checking out how you can do research in groups.

    Once you and a friend are collecting/clipping/researching – you will start logging into a Dashboard (just like the one on Facebook or Twitter, for example) , and see what the friend is clipping, or what friends are clipping. After a few clips surrounding the same topic, you will be served recommendations, based on what you publicly collect (you can gather privately, too). You will start to see what’s trending now among colleagues and other people you are connected to.

    Information is thus curated for you – what’s important or relevant popping up automatically.

    I hope you find this relevant, and thanks again for a terrific read.

  11. Wikipedia actually does an excellent job of “crowd sourcing” a well sourced journalistic article about current events. In many cases the Wiki article is the go-to source for reliable reporting. However it should be noted that only credible sources can be cited on Wikipedia.

  12. Lorie Ghamy

    I think the future of journalism is a digest of reader’s comments after each article.

    In comments, i found often everything the “journalist” forgot in his partial analysis…. Analysis pro something (Apple or Republican, or anything else…) and never neutral, and affected by a selective memory…

    • I agree that comments add a whole new dimension to most articles. No matter how much of an expert a writer is, it is very hard to claim that they know everything everyone who can read their blog knows and thinks of.

  13. When I linked to Jeff’s post on Twitter, stating the argument that the article is no longer the default form of reportage, Josh Marshall, founder of Talking Points Memo, tweeted back: “@jayrosen_nyu absolutely. It is a form deeply embedded in once a day, non updateable print production. Even now very little recog of this.”

    • I agree, Jay — I think Jeff is right that we need to be a lot more flexible in terms of what formats we use in different cases, instead of going to that one well all the time. Different tools for different purposes.

  14. also keep in mind there is likely no collective “we” when referring to consumers of news. people have wildly different habits, expectations or desires for how to ingest information that gathers in their heads, forming structure then story. multiple formats, platforms, rate can piece together the puzzle. but they have to fit and not just be slick, streaming, live, crowd-sourced, hyperlocalized random pieces.