Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

New media changing journalism norms

I read David Folkenflik’s article “Seeking New News Formulas, ABC Tries A ‘Quick Fix’” this morning with interest. A couple weeks ago I presented for K-12 journalism teachers at the Oklahoma RTNDF Multimedia Workshop in Norman at the Gaylord College of Journalism & Mass Communication. Those conversations, along with my continuing work for Storychasers and Celebrate Oklahoma Voices, have me thinking more about the intersections of new media technologies with traditional journalism educational prep programs as well as field work. In the article, David describes the different journalistic approach taken by reporters working for ABC’s new media video program and blog “The Quick Fix.” He writes:

[Good Morning America Weekend co-anchor Bill] Weir tells NPR that his online stories are the only place where he can take such a personalized approach. “If I had done that story for World News — well, you have to play it absolutely down the middle,” Weir says. But online it’s a different story. “Right at the top I say, ‘I hate this; this drives me crazy, and now it’s time to go confront them and figure out their side of it.’ “

In traditional academic as well as journalistic writing, it’s taboo to write in first person. Overt personal bias and subjectivity is generally frowned on as well.

When it comes to blogging, however, 1st person writing and personal perspectives are more often the norm rather than the exception to the rule. It is interesting to see this influence now starting to change norms in mainstream media circles. The reason for this is simple: We live in an “attention economy” increasingly balkanized from an information standpoint with multiple voices, and mainstream media continues to fight for eyeballs.

In the arena of mainstream media, of course, we not only see norms like writing perspectives changing, we also see programming topics transforming. In the case of network television, where “reality shows” continue to be the rage, one could argue we’re seeing a “race to the bottom” as some execs pander to base human desires. This was persuasively argued by Robert Bork in his 2003 book, “Slouching Towards Gomorrah.” I’m not suggesting we’re seeing this prediction played out YET to an extreme with new media reporting projects like “The Quick Fix,” but similar dynamics are at play. David continues in his article, noting:

Weir suggests ultimately the network has more to lose by playing it safe. “Honestly — the people that I socialize with — the people I’m friends with — I don’t know that they watch the evening news anymore,” Weir says. “And they certainly wouldn’t watch my pieces on the evening news.” Morse says that’s the challenge that makes The Quick Fix worth fighting for.

Journalism norms are changing. Is your local paper standing still, or changing with the times too? What about your school journalism program? Kevin Jarrett‘s experiences helping facilitate an after-school new-media newspaper/journalism writing project using Ning is one of the best examples I’ve encountered lately of a school program changing with the times. I heard Kevin present as part of the panel “Best Practices for Encouraging Learning 24/7: Models that Work!” at NECC 2009. Their project and site is called, “The T-Bird Times: The Northfield Middle School Newspaper / Multimedia Club.” This Animoto video, which I also included in my notes for that excellent NECC panel, tells part of the story:

Find more videos like this on The T-Bird Times

I hope as Storychasers evolves in the months ahead we can help more educators, students, and communities create similar new-media, collaborative journalism projects as “The T-Bird Times.” The traditional mantra, “professional writers don’t ever use “I” or first person in their writing, doesn’t work anymore.

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