Monday, June 4, 2007

Reporting then and now

A 30-year-old white, good-looking man with dark hair sits at a wooden desk, his reporter’s hat shadowing his face as he leans over a typewriter and punches at its keys one finger at a time. The room is dark and his tan trench coat is the first thing that catches your eye. This Dick Tracy type man stares deeply at a small reporter notebook filled with scribbled black ink marks. This is what I picture when I think of old journalism.
Journalism used to be a hunting and gathering process, according to Phil Meyer, an innovative semi-retired newspaper reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner for his coverage of the inner-city riots for the Detroit Free Press.
“We looked for news, found it and delivered it. When information was scarce, the end users were so glad to get it they didn’t make much fuss about its quality,” Meyer wrote in a 2004 USA Today article, titled “Journalism must evolve--and quickly.”
Meyer continued to say information has changed, and so has reporting. I like to think a third element has been added to the hunting and gathering process, the presentation aspect. This is where creativity is expressed through word choice, description and imagery. Not to say there is no creativity used in the reporting part of journalism, but this is a different type resourcefulness.
In another USA Today article written by Meyer, titled “Closely watched media humbled,” he said journalists were able to get away with more before the Internet came about, because the standard wasn’t as high and reporters weren’t watched as closely as they are today.
“One old-fashioned investigative technique was to publish unverified information in hope that the resulting uproar would smoke out new sources that would provide the verification,” he wrote. I can’t imagine doing that today, but in a world where the media are constantly trying to increase ratings and beat out the competition, I’m sure it’s desired. Attention has become hard to grab on to and even more difficult to hold on to, making creativity, in place of trickery, just as big of a player in the game as information gathering.
“All of the cheap ways of getting attention are about used up. Sex and violence in entertainment, the quirky reality shows on TV, the screaming heads on news programs have gone about as far as they can.” Meyer wrote in the evolution article.
Agreed, and grateful as both a journalist and a receiver of those cheap attention grabbers. I suppose good old-fashioned storytelling is the answer. Sure, people can only pay attention for what, seven or 15 seconds? If you catch them in that time and provide them with quality work in those few precious seconds, I think they will stick around. Good writing is beautiful and more than just entertaining, but inspirational, and I think people both want and need to be inspired.

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