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“Newsworthy-ness”

It appears that the clash of generations in regards to journalism is also happening in journalism schools: Screw AP style! Why I don’t want to be a journalist anymore.

5 of my friends began their college careers as eager journalists. 5 of my friends are now either in a different field or no longer eager about being a journalist but eager to graduate. My choice is to go back and get another degree in Graphic Design – something that results in product that highlights as opposed to false light.

And this comes from one of the most promising students in that class!

My question: is it the industry or the classroom that has soured these students on the profession? And are we going to lose an entire generation of reporters in a massive media-fatigue driven brain drain?

The wide-eyed youngsters eager to become journalists are leaving in disgust. Why? Yes, money and jobs are a concern. But also:

As I sat through most of my classes this semester, I realized the overrated-ness (if you will) of journalism. Journalist can be very ruthless, not caring about where their next story comes from – as long as it comes. I spent four years of my life studying to become a journalist, which means I sat in classes learning about the history of journalism, the technology boom, and how the news is shifting from newspapers to the Internet. I also spent a lot of time learning about the importance of “newsworthy-ness” only to realize that the only time I ever sit down and watch the news is when I’m bored, then EVERYTHING becomes newsworthy.

Ha! That is a gem right there! When you need to find stuff, you look for it online. But when you sit in front of the TV, you become, like most people, a passive consumer. Everything on the screen becomes interesting. If a pollster calls you and asks you what topics you are interested in, you will probably note the exact same topic you were just watching a show about. If it was a show about celebrity, you will say that you find celebrity news interesting. The pollster tells the TV that you are interested in Britney Spears, so the TV puts up more shows about Britney Spears, so you are more likely to see it and find it interesting and say to the next pollster that this is what you are interested in…. you see: a vicious cycle. People watch Britney because they find it interesting and they find it interesting because it is on TV.

But if there was something else on TV, like a nature show with David Attenborough, they would find that interesting instead. And they did – for years. Nature and science shows used to be very popular. Why are they not any more? Because people don’t see them any more, so they don’t know (and don’t tell the pollsters) they would be interested. People who already know they are interested in science and nature, seek that information on their own, perhaps by reading science blogs. But many others WOULD be interested if they had an exposure to such material on a regular basis.

Cameron just had an amazing and eye-opening encounter on his train commute:

What do I take from this? That there is a a demand for this kind of information and data from an educated and knowledgable public. One of the questions he asked was whether as a scientist I ever see much in the way of demand from the public. My response was that, aside from pushing the taxpayer access to taxpayer funded research myself, I hadn’t seen much evidence of real demand. His argument was that there is a huge nascent demand there from people who haven’t thought about their need to get into the detail of news stories that effect them. People want the detail, they just have no idea of how to go about getting it.

In the related FF thread, Jill notes: “No one believes that anyone outside of academe has a serious interest in the content.”

I think there is such an interest, both for science/nature content in general media for the general viewer, and for access to data and more thorough science reporting by the educated, sophisticated audience. And there is a hunger for a more modern, more serious, and more engaged journalism. The student cited above, conludes in a new post:

I have been thinking alot about being apart of such a Journalism Renaissance that would completly revolutionize journalism as we know it today. I have been getting encouragement and several discouragements from people about the feild in general but I WANT to be a part of it. I WANT to be a part of change. To re-create the art of storytelling and essentially change journalism from mere reportage to a tool used to make a change. To use my “creative energy to plan awesome marketing campaigns/web sites” as well as to keep people in the know. Awareness vs. just information. It may sound corny but, I want to spark a nerve to make people want to come from behind the television, come from behind the newspapers and the computer screens and begin to “change the world.”

Can I do it? YES. Will I have opposition and adversity? Of course…the best can’t live without haters.

Related:

Are we Press? Part Deux
Science vs. Britney Spears
Scientists are Excellent Communicators (‘Sizzle’ follow-up)

Comments

  1. #1 Markk
    December 12, 2008

    Interesting. Several topics are mashed together here. I’l make two points.

    1. I agree that there is a large desire from many in the non-academic ranks for good science information. This is not be in the millions on every single topic that national media want, but for example to take something close to home here, there are likely hundreds of thousands of people, in bird clubs, belonging to Nature Preserves, hunters, etc. who would be interested in, say, the varieties of daily and yearly clocks in animals, and plants. Looking at lighting’s impact, seasonal or pollution effects, or just from curiosity about things like how birds know when to migrate, and so on. You probably can’t make a lot of money with a show on this alone, but wouldn’t some kind of long tail effect make this possible?

    2. The quote from the journalism kid scares me. I think we already had that revolution after Watergate and it got corrupted into analysts rather than good reporters with judgement, and has partly led to the dysfunctional mass media we have now. We need MORE “reportage” and less “storytelling”. Well, I think the story-telling FORM is good, but actually reporting real facts on the ground instead of your slant is needed. That is why we even have the word “truthiness” right?

  2. #2 Mr. Gunn
    December 12, 2008

    It’s because scientists pend their time being scientists and journalists are spending their time being journalists. There are some excellent science communicators, such as you, Bora, Dave Munger, Mark Chu-Carroll, and so on, and I don’t know why the publishers aren’t soliciting freelance work from y’all.