Journalists pretend they spend their time investigating the intricacies of international affairs, covering the inner workings of the economic system, and exposing abuses of political and economic power. Although many aspire to do so (and occasionally do with great effect), the reality is far from the imagined sense of self.
Most journalists spend the majority of their time reporting what a mayor said in a prepared statement, writing stories about how parents can save money for university tuition, covering the release of the latest versions of popular electronic devices, or finding out if a sports figure’s injury will affect performance in the next match.
Most cover news in a fairly formulaic way, reformatting information released by others: the agenda for the next town council meeting, the half dozen most interesting items from the daily police reports, what performances will take place this weekend, and the quarterly financial results of a local employer. These standard stories are merely aggregations of information supplied by others.
At one time these standard stories served useful purposes because newspapers were the primary information hubs of the community. Today such routine information has little economic value because the original providers are now directly feeding that information to the interested public through their own websites, blogs, and Twitter feeds. Additionally, specialist topic digital operators are now aggregating and organizing that information for easy accessibility.
Town councils place their agendas and voting reports on their own websites, many police and fire departments operate continuously updated blogs and twitter feeds that provide basic emergency reports and what is being entered in their blotters and logs, performance centers and concert promoters offer websites and digital notifications of upcoming activities and events, and companies and business information media offer direct distribution of financial reports and news releases to the public. All of these are stripping the value from newspaper redistribution of those kinds of information and making people less willing to pay for provision of that news.
To survive, news organizations need to move away from information that is readily available elsewhere; they need to use journalists’ time to seek out the kinds of information less available and to spend time writing stories that put events into context, explain how and why they happened, and prepare the public for future developments. These value-added journalism approaches are critical to the economic future of news organizations and journalists themselves.
Unfortunately, many journalists do not evidence the skills, critical analytical capacity, or inclination to carry out value-added journalism. News organizations have to start asking themselves whether it is because are hiring the wrong journalists or whether their company practices are inhibiting journalists’ abilities to do so.