Where Journalism Can Go From Here

Happy new year!

There’s been a lot of talk about the death of the newspaper over the last year. In fact, the postings and articles range from the dire to the hopeful almost dismissive (midway down the page). The main culprit is, of course, “the Internet”. Really, this economic downturn has been a chance for further consolidation of corporate assets. It’s not the Internet that has killed these small papers, it’s the (profit) margins. Here’s an idea where journalism (and newspapers) can go from here.

First thing, for full disclaimer, I’m not educated in journalism, although I use a lot of it’s tenets in my Searching The Internet Effectively course when speaking about verifying information and trust. Trust is a very fickle friend that only comes after time, and those who trust implicitly are likely to be burned somewhere along the course of time. Hopefully, these experiences come early enough and without any major damage and the person will gain experience with those situations. As an educator, and a human being, truth is very important to me. Journalism should be the attempt to discover truth, although I suspect that journalism (…not truth) currently resides in the realm of entertainment or at a minimum, distraction.

So with Google working on better search results for you, personally, and a world of apps for the iPhone that focus on geo-location, you’d think local news would be important. Local news is important. So much so, it saved the Birmingham Eccentric from the axe. Yes, the paper was transferred to being a weekly, but newspapers bringing recent news died in the 80’s with a refocusing on TV news. Certainly the rise of cable news and CNN Headline News being a 24 hour news channel for the headlines, helped nail the coffin for breaking news in newspapers. News from your newspaper should contain stories tailored to the location. Yes, I know that this is taught to journalism students everywhere, but it seems like it is ignored. I know that corporate media recycle their wire stories for several different communities, and I’m sure it’s a fairly commonplace activity. Why?

Newspapers aren’t breaking immediate news anymore, so why focus on what isn’t their strength?

Newspapers should be bringing more in depth news, the “why” in the stories. Part of the “why” should be the reason an article is appearing in the local paper. In “Made to Stick“, the book by Chip and Dan Heath, they talk about relevance and how it is important to transmit the relevance of information to an audience. One of the examples of relevance to an audience was about how a local paper focused almost exclusively on local news. If this simple idea of making things relevant to people works, why aren’t people using it? The term for the “why” in a story has become a part of slow news. Much like the local food and slow food movements, slow news can bring a better and deeper understanding of ideas, relevant to people in a community (you can get your Jane Jacobs texts out now to define community). Pausing to reflect on an incident, newspapers can provide this in depth clarification and corrections to the initial news “outbreak” via cable news and online sources that are, ahem, questionable.

You can even have spicy tag-lines, “News you can really trust” and prove it. From a business sense, people are looking for trust, honesty and things we are sorely lacking from our public institutions. Perhaps, a refocused and brave cadre of journalists can bring that to society.  Plus it’ll save paper where they used to be printing corrections (that no one read anyways).