There has always been an element of competition in journalism. The exact nature of the element has changed with the way media has changed, but it’s always been there. I can’t help but think of 9/11, when every broadcast network was showing footage of New York. The only real difference was in who a network was interviewing, and in what angle their shot of the second plane hitting the second tower was at. Sure, some of this competition centered around who broke the story first, but after the story was told by someone, then it became about who told it best.
Just shy of 10 years later, the competition has changed completely. Now, it seems to only be about who gets the scoop. What’s more, it’s no longer just a competition between journalists. Citizens have entered the ring.
We’ve talked endlessly about the affects of social media on journalism. We’ve weighed the pros and cons, we’ve discussed how journalists will get paid, and we’ve tried to discover how reporting on the web will differ from print simply being posted, or from the less formal blogging. With the recent events in Egypt, we’ve of course talked about citizen journalism as well. An untrained journalist’s tweets will be different from a working professional’s, but who’s to say that will make a difference in readership? Where there’s a major event, there will be people involved and those people, who have experienced the event first hand from beginning to end, will be able to tell the story through their senses and their feelings. No one can deny that it’s a compelling point of view, and it could very well draw more readers than major publications can get. These citizens have “the scoop” at their fingertips, and that’s the real competition that journalists now face.
So what’s left? Main stream publications have to compete; they’re mission has always been to report the “big” news, and they can’t very well change that now. But what the change has left room for is non-profit news organizations.
When an organization is not looking for profit, there’s an immediate stress taken away. Their stories become about the stories themselves, not about “being first to get the most readers to make sure our adverstisers keep buying ads so that we don’t die out.” It makes a difference.
I stumbled upon Watchdog, which is an organization that focuses on political matters in various communities. They have branches in different states, and work toward more transparent governments. Established journalists can become members of the site, which is meant to help ensure that quality, investigative pieces only are published. They ask for donations to keep them afloat, and to keep some editors staffed, but that’s about it. It’s a site that creates a sense of the communities it focuses on by telling important stories that other organizations might miss. It’s specialized in that it focuses on politics. It even provides links to other sites, such as Propublica and The Nerve, which touch on similar issues. The writing is good, the site is fairly easy to navigate although arguably unattractive, and that it specializes in one beat I think is an asset more than anything else. With so much information out there, I find the idea of one site being comprehensive in one interest appealing.
The flipside, of course, is that I may be missing out on interests that I didn’t know I had. I have spent hours looking at the National Public Radio site, looking at issues I never knew could be turned into a story. You can even make your own podcast, choosing different topics or pieces that grab your attention, mixing them together and throwing them on your iPod. The NPR as been around for 40 years now, and is adpating to the changes around it. It’s entered the realm of Twitter and Facebook, where listeners can comment on things they’ve heard. Through social media, it seems as though this organization has become organic, and has found a way to engage the community outside of new-to-the-second news.
I’m surrounded by breaking news, and I’m not trying to say it’s not important. Having said that, I’m more interested in the in-depth stories done by those writing for the sake of journalism, and not for the race. And most of these non-profit organizations cover the “bigger” stories as well, only they take the time to find a new angle, or take to the time to research and teach something new. It’s refreshing. I’m hoping that larger news organizations will start to consider these non-profit orgnaizations as their competitors and maybe, just maybe, the substance of the competition will go back to quality.