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‘Journalism’ vs. ‘content’ is a distraction

June 3, 2010

One of the things that frustrates me the most about trying to switch people from Old to New Media is that they (too) often get hung up on little details and don’t pay enough attention to The Big Stuff. Case in point: Jeff Israely’s [L]ine between “content” and “journalism” and deciding which side I want to be on. Here’s the gist:

Declaring that “I provide content” in today’s news business advertises one of two characteristics, or both: (a) I am capable of working in all media, any form or length; or (b) I am focused most of all on speed and technological innovation and maximizing human efficiency, rather than seeking depth and quality. […]

“Journalism” instead has the air of something weighty, belabored, and — most of all — expensive to produce.

I understand Jeff’s mindset; that journalism is above your average internet posting and thus it ought to be elevated on some kind of pedestal. In this case, though, the pedestal is purely semantic, so forgive me for saying, who cares? For one thing, we’ve got way more important things to worry about than what to call our product. (If Baskin-Robbins opened an ice cream shop next to a mom-and-pop operation, the least of mom and pop’s worries would be switching the name Vanilla to Creamy Vanilla.) Secondly, even if all of us journalists agreed to distinguish Journalism from content, it wouldn’t matter one damn bit. If we know one thing about the internet, it’s that no one can control the conversation. People would carry out their business online as usual and continue to call our work whatever the hell they wanted to.

That last sentence is key because it hits on The Big Stuff I mentioned earlier: People would carry out their business online as usual. Does anyone doubt this? Does anyone think the world would collectively Retweet the fact that, henceforth, journalism-on-the-internet will be referred to as Journalism and not content? I certainly hope not, because that would be ridiculous.

Instead I propose this: Let’s worry less about what we call the product and more about the product itself. It’s true that anyone can produce content that gets traffic, which puts a burden on us. We’re not in the business of just getting traffic; we’re in the business of producing good journalism and then driving traffic to it. There’s an extra step because we’re not just saying KITTENSKITTENSKITTENS!!!!111!!1 and wrapping ads around it. Our job is hard and it doesn’t pay much—what else is new?

I guarantee we will not be looking back on the industry in 20 years and saying, “Man, when we started referring to our work as journalism and not content—that was the watershed moment!” Words don’t put value in your work, value does.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Celeste Gracey permalink
    June 10, 2010 2:32 pm

    Haha, this post is so moody.

    I agree. Let the product speak for itself.

    I disagree. You can control some conversations and some branding online, but I agree, who cares.

  2. June 10, 2010 2:54 pm

    @Celeste- Moody? No, just baffled by the things people choose to care about :)

    You can shape branding and conversations to a certain degree, but you can never control them (case in point: BP). Furthermore, we’re not even talking about a brand in this case; we’re talking about a colloquial term. The idea of calling it journalism instead of content is about as ridiculous as switching French fries to freedom fries.

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