Cookie-Cutter Journalism

Flip away from the enthusiasms of the Web 2.0/participatory media crowd; the future suddenly loses its shine.

In a paper published last year by Harvard’s Shorenstein Center, Robert G Picard gives a detailed account of what’s gone wrong with American news journalism:

Many of the challenges of news organization today exist because the professionalism of journalism and journalism education have determined the values and value of the news, commoditized the product, and turned most journalists into relatively interchangeable information factory workers. Average journalists share the same skills sets and the same approaches to stories, seek out the same sources, ask similar questions, and produce relatively similar stories. Few journalists encounter skills-related problems changing from one news organization to another and the average journalist is easily replaced by another. This interchangeability is one reason why salaries for average journalists are relatively low and why columnists, cartoonists, and journalists with special skills (such as enhanced ability to cover finance, science, and health) are able to command higher wages. Across the news industry, processes and procedures for news gathering are guided by standardized news values, producing standardized stories in standardized formats that are presented in standardized styles. The result is extraordinary sameness and minimal differentiation.
Robert G Picard, Journalism, Value Creation and the Future of News Organizations
(Google’s cached version; click here for pdf)

Of course, it takes two to dumb news down to its lowest common denominator. Hart Van Denburg, an online news editor in Minneapolis, agreeing with Picard, adds:

Americans treat their news the same way they treat their road trips. They could get off the interstate/internet for five minutes to visit a local diner and meet some local folks and get a sense of whether they’re in Brooklyn, N.Y., or Brooklyn Park, Minn., but they won’t. This is a country wallpapered with tens of thousands of square miles of beige suburbs populated by millions of fearful field mice with no desire to experience anything more unique than a sesame seed out of place on a Big Mac bun. Can we really expect such folks to give a hoot about anything outside their cul-de-sacs?
Hart’s Big Picture, Picard, Sameness, Passion