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The new journalism: Writing about what’s been written about already in a way that hasn’t been written yet

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Seth Godin goes on a mini journalism rant today:

We don’t need paid professionals to do retweeting for us. They’re slicing up the attention pie thinner and thinner, giving us retreaded rehashes of warmed over news, all hoping for a bit of attention because the issue is trending. We can leave that to the unpaid, I think.

The hard part of professional journalism going forward is writing about what hasn’t been written about, directing attention where it hasn’t been, and saying something new.

This is totally true, but I’m not sure it’s totally feasible. It sounds like what Seth is saying is that instead of re-reporting “trending” topics, news media should focus on the stories that aren’t being told. The problem with that is that in order to run a successful online news operation, you need X amount of people to come to your site, and that gets harder the further away from trending you get. The other problem is — and any newsroom editor or manager will argue it — there are times when following the crowd is the absolute right thing to do.

The real trick is to write about what’s trending, but to focus on some aspect of it that hasn’t been scrutinized yet, or to write about it in a way that no one else has thought about yet.

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  • I saw this Godin post today as well, and had similar misgivings about it.  In some ways the post seems to implicitly be centered around a marketing question – “how can I differentiate myself from the crowd?” – rather than more difficult questions about the value of news that may include, but are not specific to, marketing and monetization concerns.  “Now that everyone is ‘reporting’ on local events, how can I bring value to my community in my own  ‘reporting’?” – just to pull an example out my, um, hat.

    I think you’re onto something when you say focusing on a under-scrutinized aspect of a story may be a future route, but your use of the word “trick” is telling, if unintentional.  That one can discover a way to write about something in a way that no one else has thought about yet is only useful (in that marketing sense) if it attracts attention.  And it is only valuable (in the sense of providing readers with something they’re not getting elsewhere) if it accomplishes something meaningful (which can be anything from providing insight to resulting in a chuckle).  Trying to be different for its own sake is, of course, probably aids neither of these goals.

  • My use of the word “trick” was certainly not intentional, or at least not conscious, in the sense you’re talking about, but you make a good point. The real trick, then, is to repackage content in a way that is both original and useful to your readers.

    Traditionally, this has been done (by newspapers, mostly, but more recently, I’m sure, by blogs) by taking a national or international story like, say, the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Iraq and using it as a backdrop for local focus — local families welcome soldiers home; how does this affect the local economy?; etc.
    On the web, where your “personality” may be what makes your blog unique, you may have a bit more latitude than just “localizing” a story.

  • Why is the text in this comment thread so goddamn small? You should fix your blog.

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