The Riverside Press-Enterprise in Riverside, Calif., requires its entry-level reporters to shoot video of their stories in addition to the written versions. The directive is optional for older or more established reporters, but the message is clear: Get with the future or get out.
There is some truth and I’m sure even noble purpose to this obvious attempt to remain relevant. And the Press-Enterprise is hardly alone – these are trying times for the soul of newspapers everywhere, and 2007 will be different only in terms of magnitude.
Newspapers are not dead; the traditional newspaper is. But technology itself is not enough to resuscitate the dying patient that is today’s printed press.
What newspapers lack is not video or blogs, podcasts or RSS feeds, avatars or consumer/citizen/user/customer/whoever-generated content. Newspapers no longer tell us stories – especially those stories we need to hear.
We get snippets, digests and broad strokes. We get opinion without context, commentary without research and sound bite upon sound bite upon sound bite. Like almost every other form of media, the newspaper has been “Tivoed” and revamped to address our mass cultural Attention Deficit Disorder, so much so that we know more about Tom and Katie than Shiite and Sunni (and care more about the former as well.)
Nevertheless, there is still a thirst for story that newspapers can quench. While the Internet version of news excels at the short pass, the print version needs to go long with stories that awaken people’s emotions, not their modems. In fact, this approach is not just for print but for the online newspaper as well. With an unlimited amount of space, there is plenty of room for good storytelling.
And yes, these stories, when warranted or possible, will need to include video and graphics, and audience engagement via commenting and other social media norms, among other things. All media is multimedia, and that goes for newspapers, too.
But rather than shoot video for video’s sake, tomorrow’s journalists need to learn how to be visual and audio storytellers. Just using the technology doesn’t make you relevant or hip – you can shoot all the video you want, but if it doesn’t tell a story, then you are wasting the audience’s time.
When I was in journalism school I had to choose whether to study print or broadcast journalism. But today there are no print journalists, TV journalists, radio journalists or Internet journalists. There are just journalists reporting across all mediums, in all forms, and in real time. The main universal thread is story, which should be every journalism student’s major and every professional’s focus.
This is where we are headed in 2007 – a world without a mass media, without a common tongue to tell our human tales. What we have instead is a world with many mediums, affording countless opportunities to reach more people in more ways than ever before.
This is our great challenge as communicators – and our greatest hope for a meaningful future.