Posts Tagged ‘authenticity’

A need for journalism

This past week, Village Voice, the New York based alternative weekly known for its cultural output, announced that it would cease publication of its print edition.

After that news was announced, a Twitter thread appeared from Andrea Swensson, music journalist and presenter of The Local Show, a program on 89.3 The Current, the music service of Minnesota Public Radio, which showcases Minnesota’s music scene. Swensson was also a music editor for City Pages, an alternative weekly based in Minneapolis.

These particular posts however got my attention.

It got me thinking about the debate that has stemmed as journalism continues to evolve in the digital age – clicks versus authenticity, and our own roles as journalists as it plays out.

We are natural storytellers. We enter this industry in order to inform, engage and educate – that no matter what beat we specialize in or if we broadcast or write for print or online, the work we do will make a difference for the people we serve.

The internet and the culture of social media has challenged us how we think about telling these stories. We wonder if the work we do is truly meaningful, or if its just for the sake of clicks, while the generation of early career journalists wonder if they will be able to make an impact in the field, as questions on journalism’s business model continue to be raised.

Social media has allowed people to consume news, music reviews and all types of journalism quickly. We are the sharing generation – and we share that content in abundance.

Social media platforms like Twitter may have disrupted journalism, but there is always going to be a need for it. (Photo: Pixabay)

Along the way, journalists and news organizations have had to take a step back to figure out how we can do our best work, in the age where how quickly one can get clicks becomes the norm instead of quality, authentic content. There have been positives for the relationship between social media and journalism, but there have also been negatives.

To borrow the legendary Facebook relationship status: It’s complicated.

I don’t claim to know what is going through the mind of Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey and others when it comes to their whims and intentions about journalism on their platforms. I also don’t know how journalism will look when its digital reinvention is said and done.

But I do know this. Authenticity is important. Authenticity is a necessity. Authenticity is quintessential to journalism’s future.

What makes journalism vibrant is the dedication and passion of others to help people be at their best, whether its about music, politics, business, sports or other forms of culture. No matter what one covers, the ability to be authentic is something that allows journalism to keep going, to know that the work you’re doing has an impact, and to know the profession is, in these times, still a valued part of civic and cultural society.

That’s why people need the written word in print and online, be it in books or a subscription to a newspaper. It is also why radio is still important – and that its worth investing in public radio through a donation.

Authenticity is why The Local Show, and indeed The Current, do so well, and why they are needed – not just for our sake, but for journalism’s. Journalism needs passionate and dedicated storytellers and curators to help support it, because the work people do in this profession matters, and is something not to be taken for granted.

Though we may not know where its going, and the platforms will continue to change, there will always be a need for journalism, and the ability to be authentic is something that will keep it all together.

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist who writes for publications in the US and the UK. He also serves on SPJ’s Ethics Committee. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

Ethics and authenticity

At NPR’s headquarters in Washington, two sets of keyboards, both connected to microphones, appear before a musician. He sits down and performs three tracks from his album – a performance that is as intimate as it gets, a performance that is powerful and can showcase talent.

His name is Sampha – a singer, songwriter and producer from south London who has come to DC for a Tiny Desk concert, part of the All Songs Considered series, and as it provided some very good background music as I made research calls today, it also made me think.

Although this is a performance, there is a lesson that can be taken from it for journalists – the ability to be authentic, amid the competition of being the first at everything.

In this age where social media has helped organizations disseminate news, information and other content, it has also been a more competitive environment. Who can get to Twitter the quickest with that exclusive or that first bit of new information? Who can I tell first about that story or that performance?

Its a tricky situation, because sometimes in the rush of getting it out there, some errors are made when it comes to information, or you feel because you wanted to be first you couldn’t do justice to the story you wanted to tell, or because that FOI officer with the government in San Diego didn’t respond to your request that an element of the story was missing. When all is said and done, you feel uneasy and concerned, wondering if you did your best work that day.

Allow me to say this: Breathe – it’s okay.

In this social media age, some emphasis has been made on likes for quantity, not quality. (Photo: Pixabay)

The Society’s Code of Ethics calls on journalists to seek truth and report it, that one should be responsible for the accuracy of the work, and that neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy.

I think however in this social age it has become more than that. It is a reason to be authentic, to go in-depth, to do some uniquely awesome stuff for your audience.

Take these Tiny Desk concerts, for example – these concerts take time and precision. A performance cannot be rushed. A performance is a story, after all – you don’t want it to abruptly finish when clearly the storyteller has more to write or the performer has more to perform of the song.

You could also make the same argument for that interview on Fresh Air or that report you hear on All Things Considered or Morning Edition – stories and interviews that probe and provide context cannot be rushed, and shouldn’t end when there’s more to be seen.

There is room for these in-depth stories, and an appetite for them, whether its a long narrative in the New York Times, on NPR’s web site or in podcast form. Indeed, some of this in-depth stories recently helped NPR to achieve record audience figures.

Yet, in the world of in-depth stories, also exists is the world of deadlines – deadlines which must be met. Even if its a quick story you’re going to do, there still is an opportunity to be authentic. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What are some unanswered questions that come from it?
  • Is there an under-reported part of this story that can be incorporated? If it can’t be done immediately, can it be for a future story?
  • Is this angle just to help with space or time – or can it really help my audience understand the story better?

In this age of journalism, I favor stories that take time to tell – something that can go beyond what is reported daily. If that approach is taken, I know my audience will get something that is not just helping them understand the world around them, but I’m also offering something authentic.

So when you’re thinking about your story, take a step back. Think about the subject and the type of story you want to tell. Give yourself an excuse to go beyond the norm, and to experiment.

Then take the time to do it, channeling not just your role to seek truth and report it per the Ethics Code, but this – it is not only better to be right than be first, but to do something well instead of doing it at all.

Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member, is a member of SPJ’s Ethics Committee and a contributor to the SPJ blog network. 

Outside of SPJ, Veeneman is a Managing Editor and contributing writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can interact with Veeneman on Twitter here.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.


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