Or is it just that entertainment takes precedence over hard news?

Maybe it’s the glass of crisp, icy chardonnay I’m sipping as I flip through findings in “The American Journalist In The Digital Age” study by Professors Lars Willnat and David Weaver at the School of Journalism, Indiana University… but the fact that the last decade has had more of a negative impact on journalism than positive doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. It’s hardly a revelation.

Yes, newsrooms have shrunk as media struggle to capture revenue as advertising drops and the competition against “free” news increases.

Yes, men still outnumber women three to one, and women still make less money.

Yes, workplace satisfaction has shrunk, thanks to each journalist juggling the work of three.

Yes, they are less likely to have complete autonomy over the stories they choose to report on.

Wait… what?

This is interesting, but it actually makes perfect sense. If we are more likely to use social media to identify breaking news and monitor what other stations are doing, then it’s a natural result that those findings drive news coverage more than reporters having the ability to chase down their own stories. Their own interests. Their own discoveries.

Are journalists pressured to cover what is popular on social media because it is a guaranteed win? Something already proven popular with those who consume news and entertainment?

Hmmm. This isn’t necessarily a good thing.

A perfect example is this: Yesterday, vice.com ran a story by a Phoenician bashing Phoenix. The dry heat, the boring architecture, the admittedly heinous politics. The post didn’t say anything unique, couched in f-bombs and interesting language by an immature writer that should have moved long ago. Yet some explosive social sharing caught the attention of multiple news networks and before you can sneeze, it showed up on multiple major news networks in Phoenix, such ABC15 and KTAR – both large stations.

Over a thousand comments and 18,000 Facebook likes later, the link bait piece clearly worked like a charm. I”m sure the author is delighted.


Even the Phoenix Business Journal jumped into the fray, with a blog post talking about how local coverage of the derogatory post about Phoenix wasn’t included in the print magazine or email piece because it was clearly “entertainment news” and they didn’t like to jump on the link bait bandwagon. Yet they obviously couldn’t ignore it entirely or it would not have spawned a blog post. Whaaaat?

Is social media attention now driving the entertainment side of news?

This is lazy journalism, in my opinion. Riding on the coattails of something already cresting on social media is not what I want to hear about on the news!

Perhaps if it was the start of the story, with local media taking it further to investigate the claims, dispute or confirm them, turn them into a human interest story, SOMETHING. But just reporting on the negative article? Snooze fest!!!

I appreciate local news being the first to report something, diving into investigative journalism, reporting something that isn’t already on other stations or settling into the downturn on social media after having peaked.

Entertainment isn’t regurgitating something on social media. It’s identifying it there, then taking it in an interesting new direction. Throwing a curve ball. Tweaking perspective. Entertaining me with a GREAT STORY that I haven’t already heard. Coverage with thought behind it, even coverage that can make a difference.

Was this the choice of the reporters? Or a symptom of having less autonomy? Maybe even a symptom of shrinking newsrooms that don’t have bandwidth for original reporting and must rely on social media “low hanging fruit.”

I don’t have the answer. Perhaps it is ALL of those things.

On the flip side of the fence…

There is hope, though. The report also reflects that “far fewer U.S. journalists in 2013 are willing to say that some reporting practices might be justified in the case of an important story. These practices include using confidential or personal documents without permission, badgering or harassing news sources, seeking undercover employment, posing as someone else, and paying for information. These seem to be indicators of a more cautious and perhaps more ethical journalism.”

They seem to be less focused on maximum reach and speed, and more focused on the importance of analysis.

It also states that most journalists agree social media helps promote them and their work, keeps the more engaged with their audiences, and leads to faster reporting. It isn’t exactly decreasing their workload or improving productivity, but it is helping in other areas.

I’ll take that as a victory.