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 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

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