College Media / hope for the future / innovation

The journalism is what matters: get beyond the primacy of the print byline

The journalism is what matters

(See Updates at bottom of the post)

Last week on the College Media Podcast, Dan and I talked about two more student news operations that are facing steep cuts in funding, which he blogged about at College Media Matters.

I wanted to expand on something I said in that podcast, for those who might not listen to the podcast, and even for those who do.

My initial reaction to the news item was one of disappointment, not in the news about the budget cuts, but in the reaction from the advisers and journalism students affected.

From an opinion piece by BCCC professor and Centurion adviser Tony Rogers:

The Centurion usually publishes eight to 10 issues a semester, but due to budget cuts will only be able to publish half that many this semester … It’s a tough time for the staff because, despite what media bloggers have written about the future of news being online, it’s just not the same when stories appear on a website but not in print. That’s true even for my students, most of whom have grown up in the digital age and can’t remember the ancient pre-Internet era.

I’ve had my disagreement with Rogers’ outlook on journalism education before (“Get off my lawn: the tired, tired refrain that we’re teaching too much tech in journalism schools“). Make this round 2.

Rogers’ pessimism about online journalism might be a part of the reason his students are having a hard time dealing with the digital transition. I happen to be one of those “media bloggers” who has emphasized the future of news online. And now – as much as I hate to say it – I am proven right. Welcome to the future, Mr. Rogers.

But Rogers is merely a symptom of a larger characteristic of journalism that needs to change: chartigraphilia – the love of writing in print.

There is nothing inherently wrong in appreciating a byline in a printed product. I got my start in print and spent a lot of time with ink, X-Acto knives and hot wax watching stories and photographs I’d produced get distributed to thousands of readers. The problem comes when that appreciation for the byline in black and white prevents you from having a similar appreciation for a byline in another medium. And that’s really what Rogers is saying: The print byline is somehow superior to the byline on the web. That is the perception.

That perception is wrong for a simple reason: The journalism is what matters, regardless of what medium it appears in. Let me repeat that: The Journalism Is What Matters.

I realize this may be hard for generations of (primarily print) journalists who believed that – by virtue of the “permanence” of print – their journalism was somehow “better” than the journalism of others (primarily radio and television). But times have changed.

If anything, print – with its rigid publication schedule and “yesterday’s news” distribution model – should be valued *less* than the digital byline, which can be immediate, richly supported with extra materials, updated continuously, read around the world, spread virally, and searchable from anywhere.

Changing that perception in the minds of students starts with changing that perception in the minds of professors and professionals. And it’s time that starts happening.

Because make no mistake: The best of Deadspin or ProPublica or Buzzfeed is just as good as – and sometimes better than – the best of the New York Times, the Guardian or the Washington Post. And even some of the best work done by those stalwarts of print journalism is not (nytimes.com) available (guardian.co.uk) in print (washintonpost.com).

These are a few steps to help make that happen in your own mind:

  • Stop deriding web journalism as somehow less than print journalism.
  • Start expecting more from reporters than a Word .doc of their story.
  • Start collecting and sharing quality online-only journalism examples with your students and peers.
  • Start praising web-only content with the same fervor you praise good reporting that appears in print.
  • Start treating your digital advertising as essential as your print advertising. And expect your ad sales staff to do the same.
  • Start sharing web and social media traffic numbers with your reporters, especially when a story goes viral.

That can be a start.

New mindsets can be created if you work at them. But it starts with you.

Does anyone else have ways they’ve used to change a mindset about digital journalism? Please respond in the comments.

Update: Judy Robinson at the University of Oklahoma suggested this idea on the CMA listserv:

Instead of promoting a story as “online-only,” use “online exclusive.” That may not sound like much, but the difference in words used can be important in perception.

4 thoughts on “The journalism is what matters: get beyond the primacy of the print byline

  1. When students properly promote their stories via social, they’ll get retweets, etc., and the thrill on knowing somebody read it. They need to learn this anyway, and it has the upside of increasing gratification.

  2. Pingback: College Media Podcast 4-8-13: Chartigraphilia and Tabula | Innovation in College Media

  3. Pingback: Necessary but not sufficient: Journalism on the web should be “more” | Innovation in College Media

  4. Pingback: College Media Podcast: ‘It’s the Journalism That Matters’ | College Media Matters

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