March 5, 2007
'Analytic Journalism'John Stoehr
At the NEA Arts Journalism Institute, we kept hearing how the future for critics is brighter than we think. Given the masses of information people are forced to consume everyday, someone has to sort it all out, make sense it all, discern what's important. In others, use his or her analytical powers to provide greater meaning beyond the news.
That's just the kind of thing Mitchell Stephens talked about in his latest piece for the Columbia Journalism Review.
A historian of American journalism at New York University, Stephens addresses the threat to traditional newsgathering posed by emerging technologies by suggesting a strategy that we can do even now: by giving readers more than just the news.
As Stephens writes:
"The extra value our quality news organizations can and must regularly add is analysis: thoughtful, incisive attempts to divine the significance of events -- insights, not just information [my bold]. What is required -- if journalism is to move beyond selling cheap, widely available, staler-than-your-muffin news -- is, to choose a not very journalistic-sounding word, wisdom.
"Here's more historical precedent: In the days when dailies monopolized breaking news, slower journals -- weeklies like The Nation, The New Republic, Time -- stepped back from breaking news and sold smart analysis. Now it is the dailies, and even the evening news shows, that are slow. Now it is time for them to take that step back."
Elsewhere, Stephens writes of an American newspaper committed to deploying this strategy: The Times Herald-Record, in Middletown, N.Y.
"No one is suggesting that reporters pontificate, spout, hazard a guess, or 'tell' when it is indeed 'too soon to tell.' No one is suggesting that they indulge in unsupported, shoot-from-the-hip tirades.
"'It's not like talk radio,' explains one of the champions of analytic journalism [my bold], Mike Levine, executive editor of the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, New York. But it's not traditional American journalism either.
"Levine, a former columnist, had noticed that the analyses reporters unburdened themselves of in conversations in the newsroom were often much more interesting than what ended up in the paper. Some of that conversation is mere loose talk and speculation, of course. Yet 'walk into any newsroom in America,' Levine says, 'turn the reporters upside down, and a hundred stories will come falling out. They know so much about the communities they cover, but they don't get it in the newspaper.'"
I can't overemphasize the importance of this article to our jobs as arts journalists. If we are to matter in the future, we have to make the case for more analytical journalism. We have to make the case for what Joe Nickell, our co-host here at Art.Rox, calls "critical relativism."
Joe just wrote a piece for the Montana Journalism Review, outlining with brilliant clarity the meaning and significance of this concept. He'll likely post something on the article soon.
Posted by John Stoehr at March 5, 2007 1:01 AM
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