on RSS, I've got to thinking about how I fit into this new world of
blog-journalism. Here's the beginnings of my theory on this...
Back in the 70's Tom Wolfe coined a style of news writing called New Journalism, which was very influential for me growing up. Although I never did formally train to be a journalist, I always identified with Wolfe as a writer. The title of this post, btw, is a result of combining the name of Tom Wolfe's manifesto and the title of Michael Lewis' classic 90's Internet non-fiction book: The New New Thing. Witty huh? :-) Lewis is another of my favourite authors, btw.
So I've been reading a lot of great stuff on the Web about how journalists are adapting to the New Media world of the Web, in particular how they are adjusting to bloggers and blogging technologies. This post I'm writing, off-the-cuff, approaches the topic from the other side: a blogger adapting to the world of journalism. I'm just a blogger, yet I'm now doing reporting on Silicon Valley Watcher with my new colleagues who are 'real journalists' (my phrase).
Here's the piece of insight I was searching for, in pondering this post: Specialization will come via niche, not skill. Terry Heaton wrote that in the comments section of Jay Rosen's blog - note that both come from the world of journalism.
Terry's practical point was that journalists need to be "multimedia skilled" these days. I imagine in the same way that so-called 'Generation M' (or 'C') are "media multitaskers", to quote a recent report by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The main point though is that being a Specialist in the 21st century is increasingly about focusing on a niche - moreso than having specialist skills, such as (for example) reporting and editing. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying specialist skills aren't still important. Obviously they are. But I do think that specialist skills will no longer be the key differentiators in 21st century journalism.
What will make quality journalism stand out in this century is the specialist knowledge that the reporter/writer brings to it - which includes being close to the news source (ideally being what we in the IT industry call a 'user') and being able to drill deeper than someone outside that niche can do.
Of course being multi-skilled means to be skilled in reporting and editing - as well. But it's no longer enough *just* to have those skills. Those people who focus on a niche will be able to build up a deeper, and hence potentially more valuable, store of knowledge than those who skim across dozens of niches.
Having said that, Michael Lewis (the author I mentioned above) is a great example of someone who is able to insert him or herself into a niche topic for a period of time and come out with a compelling story. So there is still room for a highly skilled reporter/writer to inject themselves into a variety of niche situations and report on them as well as - or better than - people already in those niches. I can't imagine anyone else writing a better and more insightful story about baseball than what Micheal Lewis did in 2003.
So in some cases specialist skills (reporting and writing in Lewis' case) are more important than specializing in a niche. I wonder whether that will be the norm in this century though, as it was in the last? I don't think it will.
This is all forward-looking for blogs and journalism in the 21st century. Sometimes though it pays to look back to the Good Old Days. When thinking about what makes a good journalist, I like this traditional (romantic?) definition:
"The ideal newsroom protagonist, judging by fiction and film from the first half of the twentieth century, brought reporter and detective together in one person. The reporter and the detective both were considered hard-working and highly moral, even when breaking the law. Both insisted on remaining loners and working by their own idiosyncratic rules. And both mixed with high-hatters and hoi polloi; they, like the heroes of Vern Partlow's song 'Newspapermen,' reveled in 'corruption, crime and gore.'"
Well apart from reveling in corruption, crime and gore - that describes me, on my Web 2.0 and RSS beat. Perhaps I will get to revel in gore when the next phase of the RSS Format Wars hits. :-)
I suspect this is just the start of an ongoing series of posts on this topic, by this reporter. I haven't finished my train of thought and I will probably change my mind later... but in the new new tradition of blogging, I'll post what I have now and see who continues the conversation.
NB: Just discovered some author has already used the term "The New New Journalism". Oh well, nothing is ever new in this world... ;-)