Sunday, July 04, 2004

Journalism, again
Kaye Trammell is frustrated with journalists who don't get it. A recent article about blogs causes her to complain, and the complaint sounds familiar. As a teacher of journalists, I have to say - I am not surprised.

It's not that they are stupid. At least in Norway, to get into a journalism study, you need top grades. It isn't that they don't know what to do. I think the problem is that they know it far too well.

Ketil Jarl Halse, associated professor at Volda College, wrote an article years ago called "Journalisten som strateg" - the journalist as a strategist. It explains some of the many pressures journalists are under as they are to create a new edition of the news. It is heavy peer pressure, intended to maintain the standards of the newspapers.

Journalism, at least in Norway, is one of the free professions. Anybody who can write are allowed to do so, if a newspaper prints what they write: great! This means that in order to maintain a certain standard and a certain level of trust, there are two harsh mechanisms in use. One is the social control, the peer pressure. This decides things like "what is news" "how do we write about that kind of news" "who do we interview". The other mechanisms is the editing that happens before the copy goes live. This is done by specially trained people who are taught to look for certain clues accepted at "good news," "good journalism" or "good stories". Both of these are good. They ensure high ethics, remove babble, exclude dubious sources.


There is always a but, and this is where Trammell's frustration hits right on the head. " For the past two years (wow, can it be that long?!) media articles haven't told us anything new about blogs." For a topic to be accepted, it has to get over the "news" treshold. Blogs did that years ago. But once it is over this treshold, changing the story rather than repeating it demands creativity. A system that functions through heavy peer pressure and high-pressure editing does not invite creativity. Once you know what works you stick with it, pack it up differently to make it look good, but you don't really think a new thought about it.

And this, sadly, explains at least to me what happens to all those brilliant, adventurous students once they get out there and start writing for their bread and rent.

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