Journalism. Journey. Two very similar words.
“Journalism” comes from “journal,” which is, according to Dictionary.com, “1. a daily record of occurrences, experiences, or observations. … 2. a newspaper, especially a daily one.” “Journal” in turn originated during the mid-14th century; it came down through French from the Latin diurnalis, meaning daily, Wikipedia says.
“Journey” is “1. a traveling from one place to another, usually taking a rather long time; trip. … 2. a distance, course, or area traveled or suitable for traveling,” according to Dictionary.com. It is derived from the Latin diurnata, which means a day’s time.
So both journalism and journey come from the same Latin root, which seems appropriate. Good journalism takes the audience on a journey through the story. The journalist who crafts the story is essentially a mapmaker, laying out the route so that readers/listeners/viewers can follow it through to its destination. Good journalists draw clear maps with understandable directions, so that readers/listeners/viewers can follow the path and avoid hacking a new trail through thickets of unnecessary and confusing words or images.
This week’s readings are all about the journey that the field of journalism is taking through the still alien landscape of new media. None of us on the journey really knows where we are going, though more and more journalists – and those invested in turning a profit from journalism in the new media age – are offering maps of their own design. Some of the paths on the map look promising, but the destination remains unclear.
Every place has a story
Clark (2010) got me thinking about this, with her pitch for “location-aware” storytelling. She says:
Maps are powerful tools. In fact I’ve come to believe that the best journalism is like a map. It shows where you are in relation to others; it provides a sense of topography and can show the best path forward. Whatever the purpose is of a particular piece of journalism – breaking a story, investigating corruption, giving voice to the voiceless – when the job is done well, a new place in this world emerges or new understanding of a familiar one is gained. Effective storytelling helps citizens and communities discover where they are (sometimes by examining who they are). From there, they can better decide where they want to go. (para. 9)
She makes a compelling case for crafting stories that, using new media and location software, have lots of information about a place embedded in them. Clark describes “harnessing the fleeting but powerful investment that people have in a place when they are physically in it” (para. 24) through geotagging software and communication tools such as Twitter, Foursquare, and Gowalla. But rather than being overwhelmed by digital data about a particular place, journalists can filter and present relevant data and stories.
I see a world where narratives are draped on a landscape, and the news of a region is not just about what’s new. Place provides an alternative organizing principle for journalism, prompting questions about what forces – economic, political, environmental, cultural, personal – shape one spot in the world. (para. 26)
Using geotagged data and stories and new media devices such as smart phones, reporters can reconnect people to place.
I find this very intriguing. I work at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler, which is on the site of Camp Fannin, a base set up by the U.S. Army in 1942 to train infantry for World War II. After the war ended, the base was decommissioned and the federal government gave the state of Texas the base’s 1,000-bed barracks hospital and 614 acres for a tuberculosis hospital. Thousands of people with TB were treated there from the late 1940s through the 1960s. As the number of people with TB shrank because of new, more effective drugs, the state gave the hospital authority to treat other diseases of the chest.
The hospital and its clinics joined The University of Texas System in 1977, and eventually became what it is now, an academic medical center with clinics, a hospital, and a biomedical research facility. So there are layers upon layers upon layers of narratives draped all over this specific piece of East Texas. It would be fascinating to point a smart phone at the Biomedical Research Center, for example, and learn that it was built in 1986, close to the site of Camp Fannin’s original barracks hospital, and that a new $11.3 million research wing was completed in 2005. You could also find out how much federal and private grant funding the center received last year, and see a profile of a particular scientist who specializes in lung disease research.
The really real versus virtual reality
My only concern is that, once again, people will be staring at their digital devices rather than observing the real world around them. So, will they really be more connected to that specific place? Yes, if they use that information to better understand the history of the place and put it in a broader context. No, if they just focus on the information coming out of their digital devices. Theoretically, a virtual reconstruction of an important moment in the history of a place could be more compelling than the place itself.
The results of Huang’s (2009) study of how youths from 15 to 30 get their news show just how compelling news presented on digital devices, particularly the Internet, can be. Surveys and interviews for the study were conducted in 2007, just as the first iPhone was being released, and most of the youths at that time found mobile digital devices such as smart phones too expensive and too complicated. Most of the youths preferred to get their news on the Internet. At least they say they are interested in news. They want to keep up with current events and they trust established news organizations. But they want to be able to access news anytime and almost anywhere. They want to control what news they access and how they access it. They don’t want day-old news from newspapers, especially when that news tends to be boring and depressing. And the TV newscast format is dated. However, with the Internet they have almost instant access to the latest news in an attractive and entertaining format.
The newspaper, as a social entity, has largely lost its roots among young people. … True convergence, based on the findings from this study, needs to be realized on the Internet. It is very likely that the “paper” part of newspapers will gradually become a nostalgic concept, and TV and radio will be assimilated into online news presentations. Enriching rich media on news websites to truly converge TV and the Internet is the future for the younger generation. (p. 118)
My sentimental journey
I think the map of journalism’s journey through new media that Huang presents is plausible. Even though I grew up reading a daily newspaper, I now get so much more of the information that I need from the Internet. Maybe it’s taking this New Media class, but I already feel nostalgic reading my Tyler Morning Telegraph and Dallas Morning News every day. And I’m stopping my subscription to the print version of The Wall Street Journal because, again, I can get everything I want and need from the online version. I feel as if I’ve surrendered to the inevitable March of Progress, sad and guilty. I’ve tossed aside my trusted and well-creased paper map in favor of the latest digital GPS system. I just hope it doesn’t lead me astray.
Daniels’ (2009) study tries to determine if one converged news organization has taken the right road. He finds that convergence works well with enterprise stories and sports stories, because the print and TV media use their different resources effectively. But the arrangement doesn’t work as well with breaking news. Other non-converged news organizations seem to do as well on those stories. So the journey to full convergence continues, with the knowledge that it can work.
Briggs, M. (2009). Building a digital audience for news. In Journalism Next, pp. 310-334. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press.
Clark, K. (2010, Summer). Journalism on the map: A case for location-aware storytelling. Nieman Reports [Online version]. Retrieved from http://www.nieman.harvard.edu/reportsitem.aspx?id=102425
Daniels, G.L. (2009).On linkages and levels: Using theory to assess the effect of
converged structures on new products. In A.E. Grant & J.S. Wilkinson (Eds.),
Understanding media convergence: The state of the field, pp. 164-181. New
York: Oxford University Press.
Huang, E. (2009). The Causes of Youths’ Low News Consumption and Strategies for Making Youths Happy News Consumers. [Article]. Convergence: The Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 15(1), 105-122. doi: 10.1177/1354856508097021