When ever I write about the need for journalists to learn new tools — such as blogging or DIY video — there’s a few hearty souls who pop up and say, “It’s not about the technology. It’s about the journalism.”
Those people are absolutely right. It’s not about the technology. Where they might be wrong is, it is not necessarily about the journalism.
What they should really say is, “It’s not about the technology. It’s about the audience.”
The audience decides what journalism they want. They always have. For background on this, see my review of Discovering the News.
Successful publishers of the past figured out what audiences wanted and gave it to them.
Even as journalists at the start of the 2oth Century began to take a greater role in defining their profession, they still had to write and report what people would buy.
What journalists mean by “journalism” today isn’t what journalists meant when they spoke of “journalism” in 1830, 1880 or 1910. It was only during the radical changes in society following World War I that the word objectivity entered the lexicon and modern journalism began to take shape.
It may merely be a coincidence, but interestingly, as journalism became more of a profession and less of trade in the 1930s, newspaper household penetration began to decline.
Real circulation losses didn’t start until the 1970s, at the apex of the rise of investigative journalism and the birth of the Woodstein era.
Is it possible that professional journalism, for all its pretense to serving society, has really been out of touch with its readership?
Is it possible that for the past four decades, journalists have produced stories to impress other journalists (aka, win awards), not please readers?
The funny thing is, Mr. Reporter, when is the last time the guy in the other cubicle picked up a paper and read one of your stories, or you one of his?
It doesn’t often happen, does it?
Now, for the first time, our audience can fight back. They can post comments, publish blogs, produce videos, and report the news themselves. Society is changing, but many journalist hide behind the notion that “technology does not change journalism.”
If society changes journalism, however, what happens to the journalist, or the newspaper, that doesn’t change to meet the new needs and demands?
If a brand of journalism doesn’t fit with the society it purports to serve, is it really serving that society?
Shouldn’t we be listening to our audience so we can figure out what they want from us?