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Recognize the importance of journalistic creativity

Posted by on Feb 2, 2010 in Blog, CAR | No Comments

Applying for jobs is scary, I’ll be the first to say it. People are getting laid off left and right, and I, as a 23-year-old, have the audacity to say I have the ability and right to take those jobs, and that I’ll make it worth an employer’s while because I’m energetic, insanely devoted/obsessed and I have new media/programming skills. I hope to high heaven that passion, enthusiasm and drive will take me far enough. But as long as I don’t apply anywhere, I can claim I’m still getting ready — safe in the haven that school provides. But once I’ve submitted an application, I can never go back to before.

I think the journalism community at large — or at least parts of it — seems to have a similar fear.  While perusing the web this morning, I saw an interesting article from the American Society of Newspaper Editors about database work at news organizations. Naturally, I followed it, hoping to find out more about data sets that other papers were providing as resources to the public, where I might be able to find stories. There were some helpful resources, some I’d heard of, some I hadn’t. It was interesting to see what papers are doing to provide public records to the public in an easily accessible way.  But most of these are  just databases being posted — resources, but not analytical stories.

But here’s the strange part: Politifact was listed in the same category as these data banks. My reaction: How can such a major professional organization miss the boat? Politifact isn’t my data resource, it’s how  I hope to apply my data resources. It focuses on the “appl*” part of “data-driven application.”  It takes the concept ten steps further, brings the journalism to the posting. 

If ASNE doesn’t get it, if we as journalists don’t get the distinctions among our own work, what hope do we have for moving forward with new types of journalism?

It’s this simple. If I post a link to the transcript of Obama’s State of the Union, that is very different than a text article covering the highlights. One is just re-posting content from a source, and could be done programatically, one needs human involvement to set up analysis, an interface, make editorial decisions. A != B, in SQL terms.

(If I’m missing the point entirely, or even if you agree, I’d love feedback because I’ve been wrestling with this for much of the day.)

That’s Problem 1 of the past week. Problem 2 is some of the reaction to the new iPad. I’ve resisted mentioning the device, because frankly, I just don’t think it’s newsworthy…yet. Paper doesn’t make a newspaper good, a magazine doesn’t have good content based on how glossy it is. It’s what you do with the new platform.

I’m not a designer, I don’t pretend to be. But the iPad might encourage a redesign taking advantage of the features of the web you take with you — and that goes on iPad, iPhone, Blackberry, Android, whatever. Opportunity knocks. (For more on this, see an SND piece on “thinking different” and approaching design creatively.)

But when some mention that the iPad represents a reversal of design trends, or that long-form journalism will work online because people will sit with their iPad for a long time, that truly frightens me . We were getting close to jumping into the deep end.  But instead,  we’re trying to figure out how to swim in the deep end the same way we did in the kiddie pool. But if we use the same swimming techniques from before, we’ll drown.

We can make things easier on ourselves by using repetition. That probably means what we do can be automated. And if it can be automated, a computer program can do it. A program that can move fast and efficiently.  If we just use the iPad as a platform to move print-like designs on the Web, we could probably automate that. And if we’re just posting databases and calling it journalism, a program can do that, too.  That’s not to say it’s not a valuable public service, but that’s a service that could also be provided by another public service organization.

So, as the saying goes, evolve or die. Not because other journalists will pass us by (or even non-journalists!) but because the computer will.

What do we have that it hasn’t got? Creativity. Let’s understand that creativity is what makes Politifact not a data bank. If journalists understand that distinction, then maybe the public will. And if the public doesn’t see a difference, why bother hiring a journalist instead of a content poster?

We need to figure out how to charge for content, sure, but first, let’s figure out how to distinguish between content that’s worth paying humans for and content computers can manufacture.  Only then can we demonstrate that difference to the public, and begin to move forward.

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