What Journalism Could Offer

James Fallows offers a list of benefits that the journalist has the potential to offer consumers. I would like to share his list and see if there anything he left out of the list.

Perspective – reporters and editors are forced to act as a filter when deciding what to investigate and publish out of the endless supply of things that could be investigated and published. (This is the same basic process that the Attorney General has to go through when deciding whether he should be investigating the BCS or the Payday Lending industry.)

Placement in Time – little if any of the news that journalists choose to cover comes without any preceding events. On the other hand, many of those preceding events have gone unnoticed before the newsworthy item registers in the public consciousness. This might also be called “context.”

Similarities and Differences – most news items are not singular events. News has the potential to help us understand how the current event compares to previous similar events. This would allow us to learn what we can from prior experience and also know where we are breaking new ground.

Usefulness – there is a difference between information that is interesting and information that is useful. While there is some value in merely interesting information, that which is simply interesting should not crowd out that which can actually be useful to the news consumer. (News Fluff/Flash covers this idea.)

This seems like a reasonable list of offerings for journalism to tackle as an industry. Getting it right would be a challenge, but a very worthwhile challenge. I would be very interested in supporting a news operation that consistently gave me useful coverage of the things that mattered – rather than simply a datastream about what has been happening. If that coverage offered the placement in time and information on the similarities and differences between the curent event and past events of the same type I would find such an organization indispensible. (In fact I do find such coverage to be indispensible, but I don’t find that coverage from traditional sources.)

2 comments for “What Journalism Could Offer

  1. January 14, 2009 at 4:44 pm

    But you, sir, are not an average news consumer. Many ‘news’ consumers are actually looking for a significant entertainment value to their ‘news.’ News organizations only exist if they produce sufficient income. To produce income, they must provide a product that sells.

    The customer base of most newspapers is extremely broad, even if it is diminishing. They have to try to provide enough content of varying types, placed appropriately in the publication, to maximize sales appeal.

    So, while the four items you list are of actual value, it must be recognized that news organizations struggle with disincentives to providing those benefits.

    • January 14, 2009 at 6:16 pm

      Call me an elitist, but I would argue that anyone who is looking for “a significant entertainment value” in their news is not a news consumer – they are simply fans – as is the more common term in entertainment. News that is seeking fans is doing a disservice to society by disguising (or distorting) the nature of journalism.

Comments are closed.