Process Journalism

With the possible exception of things like box scores, race results, and stock market tabulations, there is no such thing as Objective Journalism. The phrase itself is a pompous contradiction in terms.
Hunter S. Thompson

Credit:Lisa Randolph

Credit:Lisa Randolph

A lot of us are worried about the decline of the independent press. Amidst declining ad revenues, it seems like market democracies across the board are losing an asset that new media types (bloggers, podcasters, etc.) just can’t fill. After all, the new media types don’t have the time, training, or resources to dig deep into the belly of a story or attain the same standards of objectivity. The best they can do is process journalism.

I think that all of this, however, underscores how the free press is, first and foremost, a business and industry that (1) provides authoritative information so that they can (2) sell subscriptions and ads. It’s nice that that business model affords journalists the resources to “dig deep” into their stories, but their beats and stories are assigned by an editor, and even before the editor decides which stories to run and how to edit them, the journalist themselves decides what questions to ask what sources, and then file a story based on whoever is actually able (or bothers) to call back with a quote before their deadline.

I mean, there’s something to be said for “fact checking” and authoritative content. After all, it’s what pulls in the reader/consumer and gets them to trust the content. But any content that’s susceptible to the “news cycle” is largely process journalism.

Really, the only stuff that really makes a reasonable attempt to avoid “process journalism” are books and documentaries. But even those are nowhere near objective. In fact, the mark of a good book or doc just might be how humanly subjective it is.

And if you think about it, the influence these media have despite their subjectivity speaks to how a reader/consumer gauges their authority: it’s the effort and conviction that goes into it, not the facts. After all, while the facts are letter of the law, the truth is the spirit of it, and it’s precisely for that reason that we prefer to be judged by a jury of our peers rather than the cold, hard, calculative facts that leave everything to numbers and nothing to humantiy.

And this might be precisly why Clay Shirky said that “Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism.” The future has plenty of room for journalists. It’s just the editorial that’s going extinct.

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2 Responses to “Process Journalism”

  1. Bill June 20, 2009 at 4:52 pm #

    Yep, you seem to have it right. Imagine, for example, how hard it would actually be to distinguish between what is a “fully baked” story versus “process journalism” in a systematic way. The very distinction is going to be subjectively determined. The key is that, indeed, people want and need dependable information and were all professional traditional journalism to disappear in a puff of smoke people would turn to those bloggers, for instance, that seem to have the most dependable information. That, in turn, would drive others to increase their resources and reliability etc. This is precisely how the world of journalism we know today developed in the first place. There are some great interviews with top journalists about the future of journalism at http://www.ourblook.com/component/option,com_sectionex/Itemid,200076/id,8/view,category/#catid69 which I have found very useful when thinking about these topics.

  2. CT Moore June 22, 2009 at 9:47 am #

    I’m not saying bloggers alone could cover for journalists. Rather, what I might be implying (but I’m not even sure) is that journalists could fulfill their role without there being newspapers in their current traditional structure.

    I guess what I’m getting at is that process journalism can work if its carried out by properly trained journalists.

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