Original Journalism

If we are to believe the survey results, more journalists are turning to social media for story ideas and information.

This survey published in September of 2009 shows that 70% of journalists use social networking to assist in reporting.

A Cision study of practicing journalists released in January 2010 indicates:

  • 89% use blogs
  • 65% use social networking sites
  • 52% use microblogging sites

If you’re reading this from a newsroom, please do not lay the charts together and project the trend. I can hear it now:

“With a 19% rise between September and January, experts forecast that by May of this year 108% of journalists will use Social Media!”

Don’t laugh. It will probably happen.

Take the Viewers’ Temperature

There’s nothing new about this. For years, television stations have sent reporters and photographers out on Zeitgeist Patrol – or they would have, if any of the producers knew what zeitgeist was. Maybe if it had a cooler name like Zeitgeist Patrol, we might have been happier about doing it.

Instead, it’s called “Man on the Street,” or MOS for short. That’s where reporters who know very little about an issue get to make themselves feel more educated by asking the opinions of people who likely know even less. Sometimes, you get the added bonus of asking people about things that have yet to be on the news, so you can satisfy your inner gossip and tell them about it in person.

It’s a time-killer, a time-filler, and lacks any enlightenment or originality. It is also demeaning, because it forces you to put people in categories.

Knowing that you must show a cross-section of your viewing audience to appear as multi-cultural as possible, you find yourself not asking people who might have a good opinion, because you need the diversity. This leads to the tragic-comedy of watching reporters chase down people of “local minority” so they can fill out their MOS-Bingo Card. (“Local Minority” means finding the people who are rare in the place where you are standing right then.) People are reduced to characteristics, as you can’t have Columns A and B represented, and not C, D and E.

So while you think it’s an imposition to “take the viewers’ temperature” in person with a microphone, the people who really get it inserted are those who have to endure fact-free television filler.

Different ‘verse, Same as the First

I don’t know why we thought it would be any different with Social Media. A little over a year ago, people swooned over the savvy way Rick Sanchez at CNN “reached out” to his audience with his active Twitter presence. This was great for television, because now they wouldn’t be wasting the time of a reporter and/or photographer to go out and get public opinions! But instead of assigning those resources to investigate stories about crime, education, fraud and societal impact, it put them to work studying unemployment, depression and alcoholism. As “permanent embeds.”

The truth is, there is very little original in modern “news,” especially television. That’s why it’s fun sharing the mcarp essays, because 10 years later they are still true.

Want proof?

Someone in Chicago landed on my site from a Google search.The search was for “live shot ideas.”

My condolences to television news viewers in the Windy City, as the quality of your local television product is bad enough that reporters are turning to the internet for ideas. Maybe you can express your disgust via Twitter. Someone in the newsroom is probably reading it.

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  1. Hey Ike,
    I talked about this a bit in my class last night. The takeaway was that we’ve fully embraced validation media. We tell the media what we want covered by talking about it, they find a story about it (carefully picking the “facts” to validate viewer beliefs).
    It’s a win-win for everyone. They get viewers. We feel smarter. Never mind details like truth, originality, or accuracy. Those things tend to get in the way.
    All my best,

    • …and we spiral down further like Escher’s little soldiers, the Blind following the Dumb, the Dumb following the Dim, the Dim following the Clueless, and the Clueless asking the Blind for directions.

  2. I recently was part of a panel discussion on journalism and social media that included an EVP from Scripps, the InstaPundit, and the head of a university J-School. I don’t know why somebody didn’t record this.  It explored the issue you mention here and more.
    One of the most interesting discussions was a “reversal” of your point here — how can we improve the capabilities of the growing number of citizen journalists?  This is such an interesting topic. Boy we need to have that beer together!


  1. Ike Pigott says:

    Reporters use the internet for story ideas, at their peril | http://ike4.me/o37

  2. Commenting from internet sources, @ikepigott takes on "Original Journalism" http://ow.ly/1bxPj

  3. Ike Pigott says:

    Is there any originality left in television news? | http://ike4.me/o37

  4. Ike Pigott says:

    Working in TV news ought to be considered "green jobs," because nearly every idea is recycled | http://ike4.me/o37

  5. RT @ikepigott: Working in TV news ought to be considered "green jobs," because nearly every idea is recycled | http://ike4.me/o37

  6. TrentCotton says:

    Love this RT @ikepigott: Working in TV news ought to be considered "green jobs," because nearly every idea is recycled | http://ike4.me/o37