Are journalists being pushed too much?

Edward R Murrow is rolling over in his grave.  Aside from his famed DeLorean, unless Back To The Future’s Doc Brown comes up with another great invention, say add on two additional hours to each day, journalists simply do not have enough time to formulate quality news stories like they used to.

Converged journalists are the wave of the present and the future.  News directors, and newspaper editors want more out of their reporters besides just writing a story.  That was SO 1990s.  Now, journalists are expected to develop sources, get soundbites, write, shoot video, take pictures, make sure they look presentable so they can do live shots for tv, or web updates or both.  They are supposed to find out the “why” behind the “what” while searching around town for the people that know the “who” so they can get the “how”.  And, if that wasn’t enough, many times they have to do two roles.  How are they supposed to have time to do anything but skim the surface news?  With high pressure demands to fit different media convergences, it’s nearly impossible for converged journalists to do anything but wash, rinse, repeat.

When I worked in television news, we used to have “Sweeps” days.  Sweeps period are a block of days that occur four times a year, usually lasting a month, that television networks and advertisers pay special attention to, in order to focus on the ratings and ad prices for the future.  If your ratings are good, advertisers want to be on your network, tv execs know this so ad prices go up and the dollars continue to pour in.  Television bosses love dollars!  So, during these “sweeps” days you were given a day to not turn a story, but work on a bigger, more important, ground breaking story for the future.  However, as happens nearly every time, there would be some form of breaking news, they would look around the newsroom and see a reporter working on their sweeps story, and say, we need you to cover this.  They would run out and cover it, and their sweeps day was crossed off the calendar with less to show for it than they originally hoped.

You ask, what’s my point?  My point is, in journalism, the immediate always looks shinier than the big picture.  TV time, column spaces, radio time all need to be filled on a daily basis.  Newscasts and newspapers are approximately the same length every day, and content needs to fill that spot, or as we like to call it, “Feed The Beast”.  The mode now is to spread the reporter’s wings to hit many different mediums…tv, radio, print and web.  Many times they intercede on the same story, because the more mediums you  are on, the better exposure of the organization, and the more exposure, hopefully better ratings and with better ratings, we have learned more dollar signs and Quiz Time:  What do tv execs like?  Answer: Dollar Signs.

When I used to see a reporter setting up the camera to shoot their story, pressing record and walking away, so they can get closer to do the interview, I cringed.  When I saw them huffing around in 90 degree heat shooting a bank robbery in their pant suits, I cringed.  When I saw a print photographer carrying a still and video camera at the same time, one for print, the other to post video on the web, I cringed.  Welcome to Converged Journalism!  The wave of journalists doing more for more outlets.

What are we the viewer really learning besides bare bones journalism?  We have learned digging deeper uses a very shallow shovel.  Instead, they are told to use a wide sweeping broom to cover it all.  That is the focus of the future.  Somewhere Edward is shaking his fists at us.


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