It’s About the Stories

Ezra, being very smart in noticing something: 

But my guess is that within three years, it will be normal for news organizations of even modest scale to be publishing to some combination of their own websites, a separate mobile app, Facebook Instant Articles, Apple News, Snapchat, RSS, Facebook Video, Twitter Video, YouTube, Flipboard, and at least one or two major players yet to be named. The biggest publishers will be publishing to all of these simultaneously.

Which, if it’s about the kinds of stories you tell, is going to be good for those newsrooms that know what they’re about. If you speak with a distinct voice that voice will find an audience. If you’re one of a thousand voices droning the conventional wisdom over the same speakers that announce the weather and the lottery numbers, nobody will hear you. If you’re part of the press pack all covering the same speech, well, certainly it would be fair of the reading public to wonder why they need 500 of you at Donald Trump’s campaign events, instead of one of you with 499 e-mail addresses.

Whenever I hear newsies whining that nobody wants to pay them to be mediocre anymore, all I can think is that they need to find ways to be better, to say something nobody else is saying, to cover something nobody else is covering. That’s harder than doing what you’ve always done and it sucks that you can’t keep doing things the way you’ve always done them, but that’s not the concern of your readers.

I hear far too much chatter these days about what is good for journalists and journalism, and not enough about what is good for the audience. Who’s thinking about them?

Where I diverge from Ezra’s analysis is here:

My biggest frustration with the new media — including, on some days, Vox — is how much we’re like the old media. Most outlets — even the digitally native ones — still publish pieces that could, with few exceptions, be printed out, stapled together, and dropped on someone’s doorstep. So long as that’s happening, it’s a pretty safe bet we’re not fully realizing the potential of this new technology.

Print is still vital where print is still vital. Giving up on it in knee-jerk fashion is just as short-sighted as being hostile to the Internet in knee-jerk fashion. If this is about getting the stories to the people who need them most, then the form that reaches the people who need the stories is the form that will work. In some places, in some cases, that’s still print and that’s okay.

What we have to STOP doing is elevating one thing over another, and start doing all of it. That’s hard and it’s more work and bosses are insisting it be done with less money and fewer people, and that’s not sustainable. You can’t just bet on one thing. You have to bet on your stories, and get them out in as many ways as possible.