Explanatory, Longform: Maybe Branding Will Save Journalism?

KnewstickerSomething kind-of funny is going on with journalism right now, which is nice because most of what’s been going on with journalism the past decade has been just sad. In fact, it seems it is that sadness, coupled with the Internet, that has sparked a new trend in journalism: coming up with fancy, fresh words for what we do. I guess because we deal in words, it makes sense that we would reach for them to solve our problems — in this case, we seem to have decided to rebrand journalism. It’s not all one big glob anymore, not one word to describe the act of informing the public about things they both need and want to know, complete with all relevant and important questions answered and context given. Now we have:

Data-Driven Journalism: I get it, we all lost our minds over the awesomeness of Nate Silver during the last election. And I am a fan of good, solid data. But shouldn’t we always be doing this, whenever there is data to be had? However, this now has entire sites dedicated to it, and every outlet that discusses, publishes, and curates good journalism is a win for us all.

Explanatory Journalism: This strikes me as the most bizarrely redundant phrase, but it turns out it describes a very specific kind of voice. Namely, it is the voice of Wikipedia, just applied to the day’s news, and even more often, “news” — that is, stuff that gets a lot of clicks, often involving Beyonce. (Older folks may also recognize this as the voice of a lot of mainstream newspapers, which have often been written at a grade-school level and sometimes as if aliens might want to read and understand every word of it. I remember some newspaper editors inserting clauses into my copy to explain such fancy words as “chandelier” — you know, like, “which is a lighting structure that hangs from the ceiling and is often grand in scope.”) Forbes‘ Jeff Bercovici does such a killer explanation/sendup here that all other attempts are futile, so check it out. Vox is the main proponent of this brand of journalism. And to be fair, they have some valuable posts up today, like “Everything You Need to Know About Network Neutrality.” I don’t think that one mentions Beyonce once, and I actually do need someone to take a step back and explain that to me. So it has its moments. Mostly, though, it makes me wonder: Shouldn’t all journalism be explanatory?

Longform Journalism: This gets us journalists the most excited because everyone has been making us write shorter and shorter over the past several years, while most of us got into the business partly because we liked to write. I suspect that a very clever, disgruntled writer came up with this concept, and I thank him or her for it. All it means is that sometimes we can write super-long stuff, which anyone who picks up The New Yorker is always aware of. But hey, now we have whole sites dedicated to the stuff, which only helps everyone.

 

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