Many journalists can't provide the value-added journalism that is needed today

Journalists pretend they spend their time investigating the intricacies of international affairs, covering the inner workings of the economic system, and exposing abuses of political and economic power. Although many aspire to do so (and occasionally do with great effect), the reality is far from the imagined sense of self.

Most journalists spend the majority of their time reporting what a mayor said in a prepared statement, writing stories about how parents can save money for university tuition, covering the release of the latest versions of popular electronic devices, or finding out if a sports figure’s injury will affect performance in the next match.

Most cover news in a fairly formulaic way, reformatting information released by others: the agenda for the next town council meeting, the half dozen most interesting items from the daily police reports, what performances will take place this weekend, and the quarterly financial results of a local employer. These standard stories are merely aggregations of information supplied by others.

At one time these standard stories served useful purposes because newspapers were the primary information hubs of the community. Today such routine information has little economic value because the original providers are now directly feeding that information to the interested public through their own websites, blogs, and Twitter feeds. Additionally, specialist topic digital operators are now aggregating and organizing that information for easy accessibility.

Town councils place their agendas and voting reports on their own websites, many police and fire departments operate continuously updated blogs and twitter feeds that provide basic emergency reports and what is being entered in their blotters and logs, performance centers and concert promoters offer websites and digital notifications of upcoming activities and events, and companies and business information media offer direct distribution of financial reports and news releases to the public. All of these are stripping the value from newspaper redistribution of those kinds of information and making people less willing to pay for provision of that news.

To survive, news organizations need to move away from information that is readily available elsewhere; they need to use journalists’ time to seek out the kinds of information less available and to spend time writing stories that put events into context, explain how and why they happened, and prepare the public for future developments.  These value-added journalism approaches are critical to the economic future of news organizations and journalists themselves.

Unfortunately, many journalists do not evidence the skills, critical analytical capacity, or inclination to carry out value-added journalism. News organizations have to start asking themselves whether it is because are hiring the wrong journalists or whether their company practices are inhibiting journalists’ abilities to do so.


Gonzalo Martín said...

Great post. What really amazes me it is that these facts have been there for years and still journalism and most journalists don't get it.

Embracing change is tough.

Anonymous said...

Who can argue against better journalism, but what's the business model for this value-added journalism. Who will pay for it? Advertisers likely won't support it, and subscriptions don't cover the cost of complicated investigations.
Also, do audiences really want to go to all of the variety of places you list for information rather than one aggregated and vetted news source?

Anonymous said...

Yes, the formula for producing better journalism is fairly simple: Pay more to attract more talented, more experienced journalists. Give them more time to work on more in-depth, value-added stories. What's the business model that supports this? Every good journalist I know is ready to sign up. All of the journalists I know get it.

Marco van Kerkhoven said...

May be it's not that difficult at all. We know people are wiling to pay for quality. Not everybody, but enough people to keep expensive brands like Mercedes and Apple and Leonidas Chocolate and you name its local equivalents into business. Why would an ambitious news medium be any less successful? Of course, first of all, it needs to deliver quality: So, not following the news, but setting the news. For many journalists this means: work harder! Go out there you lazy part time bureaucrats sitting behind your desk copy-pasting buggers. Secondly: go back to school. Adjust to today's way of working. Quick and dirty? No. Efficient and to the point. Three, inevitably: buy a smartphone. Invest a lousy 200 euro in your future, for bleep sake. Four: loose the dream that you will ever want to be part of the establishment. That's not your job! You're on the other team: the taxpayer. Five and finally, I could go on for a while, but leave it here: sell. Sell yourself, sell your paper, sell your profession. Make yourself and your platform - paper, channel, site, blog, page, @whatever1-2-3 - impossible to ignore. People need balanced news. Otherwise they're lost, and fall into the hands of the thieves (aggregators), the hot air sellers ("I have an opinion and its better than the other billion opinions next door, so give me your precious time and I'll waste it for free"), and the plain liars (you know who) that are out there.

If we, media believers, follow these five simple rules, our profession has a good chance of surviving as the one and only trusted beacon that can picture this loony world. Oh, and eh…, in case you didn’t get it, I indeed believe only journalists can write good news stories. Let's cut the crap, oke? Believe that too or you better walk away now.

(Robert, thanks for giving me the spot on reason to air this opinion for ones).

Anonymous said...

I love this post. If I might ad, another problem that is burdening the newspaper business is "phone reporting" When I started in this business in '73, we interacted face-to-face with our sources. The phone was used to follow-up a question, or talk with a source who was wasn't immediately available. Today, a disproportionate amount of "reporting" is done via the telephone - even initial contacts. This has created a breakdown between reporter and source. If you haven't established a relationship in which you talk with sources about day-to-day things and other matters that won't/aren't intended to be published a reporter will not be able to cultivate sources that result in the kinds of stories the author talks about here

Anonymous said...

This week I saw a job as staff writer which paid just under £14,000pa. Twenty years ago I was staff writer on a similar small national magazine and I earned £16,950pa and could barely manage living in London. Inflation over 20 years? 50% perhaps? So a job that should now pay about £25,000 if it kept up with inflation actually pays £14,000.

What kind of people can afford to do this job? On top of that, journalists aren't given the same amount of time we were 20 years ago.

So where is the money going? I would say to people who don't produce the creative content. To parasites such as Google which just shuffles around other people's stuff and pays no tax in the UK and to inept management and shareholders.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the problem is not better reporting. The problem is who pays for this? No one ever answers this fundamental issue. Instead, they just gripe about reporting.

Robert G. Picard said...

How to pay for news in the future may be an issue, but it's not the issue here. News organizations are currently wasting much of their resources on the wrong kind of content--the content that doesn't add significant economic or social value.

gpiechota said...

Robert, I fully agree with you that journalism provided by newspaper newsrooms in the developed countries has been devalued and the re-evaluation of their practice is a must to secure the future of both news organisations and journalists.
The human factor is crucial indeed but maybe there are more devils in the details than you expect.
Let me share some experiences from a transformation I have been leading at my own newsroom.
One day we put 'value-added journalism' as a strategic goal and changed the workflow of the newsroom to let a significant group of journalists to focus on investigative stories, features, analytical pieces, critical commentary etc.
These journalists got more time, more resources and more editorial support -- something they had always dreamed about and asked for.
The first results were quite positive. Some great stories were produced. People were happy. The entrepreneurial spirit was spread around the newsroom.
But over time the quality of this journalism decreased -- the investigations happened to be pretty rare, features more mainstream, analysis more predictable and comments more repetitive. What happened?
Journalists seemed to be increasingly detached. The number of new stories, facts, ideas delivered daily started to decrease. One of the reasons was that their networks of sources eroded. Journalists had more time to interact with their sources but the stricter filtering of stories led to lower frequency of interactions. And this in turn decreased the sources' satisfaction from the interactions. How many 'big stories' per day or per week you have? Some sources simply turned to 'easier' collaborators.
One solution to this challenge could be to increase significantly the network of sources and interactions with them. The hope would be more shots could bring more hits.
The problem you face is an increase in cost and time needed to deal with much bigger networks than before: gather & process information, provide feedback & keep the relationship.
That's why you need to rethink the whole deal between sources and journalists.
Maybe modern journalists don't need more filtering but less? Maybe modern newsrooms need to open to these networks and embrace the expert sources as everyday correspondents?
In such newsrooms the role of many journalists would be different. Instead of gathering news they would rather moderate communities of correspondents or freelancers, select stories that should be promoted etc.
Any newsroom like this would still need a group of staff editors/reporters to do things no collaborators can provide -- like investigative reporting, independent analysis on the most sensitive topics, troubleshooting -- but this probably would be much smaller newsroom that today.

Unknown said...

The answers here really lie in two parts (and no doubt more). First, journalism remains stuck in the 5 W's. They certainly remain important, but news organizations must trust their editors and reporters to layer in the passion that provides authentic voice to the context and analysis. That can only happen when you expand the notion of what a journalist is to knowledgeable academics, authors, topic experts and business leaders -- formerly the sources used by journalists. The essential mission of journalism is to inform. If you are knowledgeable enough to be quoted, you are knowledgeable enough to write it yourself and build an audience around what you know. This can be accomplished by transparency -- identification and proper labeling provides the reader with an understanding of where the author is coming from. This then can become a scalable model for content creation with new ways of paying for it. It's exactly where we are doing at FORBES. Here's a post that explains more, and I believe is quited related to Robert's post.


gpiechota said...

Mr. Dvorkin, thanks for sharing and inspiring. You've made my Saturday as I have just bought your book. Grzegorz Piechota

Angela Phillips said...

adsIt is not correct that the everyday 'best journalism' will be access elsewhere. It is precisely the stuff that people don't look for because they believe that is boring or of little value- but that is until they find out that the Government has cut their benefits and they cannot afford to pay their rent, or that the local schools are so full that you have to put down your child's name at birth to get into one. These are the stories that routine local journalism collates and puts together in a readable form so that ordinary people can find it. There is no evidence at all that people crawl over their local council websites looking for what they need to know. They expect someone to tell them. Those people used to be local journalists via local papers. We haven't stopped needing them - we have to find a way to pay for them. Routine coverage of local affairs IS the value added. Don't knock it.

Anonymous said...

It's virtually impossible to disprove a negative statement:
"News organizations are currently wasting much of their resources on the wrong kind of content--the content that doesn't add significant economic or social value."

What specific examples do you have of content that is of significant economic or social value at a newspaper and how is the application of this creating a sustainable business model for that organization?

Most journalists would be delighted to have examples to show their publishers.

Robert G. Picard said...

Re: Anonymous about negative statements

I have written numerous articles, books, and blogs about the kinds of things that add value to and subtract value from journalism.

Value adders primarily involves content that others are not providing, content presented in different ways than others, and content that is better than that of others.

It is no mystery. Filling newspaper, website, and app pages with news agency and syndicated copy creates little value. Filling them with the same types of entertainment and lifestyle news found on hundreds of websites and magazines adds little value.

News organizations creating the most value tend to be those who most produce original content and content that builds upon the commondified news by showing its implications, how it affects readers, and what will happen next.

Doing the same thing that everyone else does--and doing it in standardized and uninspired ways--is a value killer in an era where you are no longer the primary information source available to the public.

Anonymous said...

I still maintain your headline should read, "Many publishers won't invest in value-added journalism."
I dispute the premise that journalists are the problem. And, if newspaper publishers are the problem, how do we help them find the right business model? Is there any newspaper out there that has found this elusive business model? Thank you for the thought-provoking discussion.

Anonymous said...

I still maintain your headline should read, "Many publishers won't invest in value-added journalism."
I dispute the premise that journalists are the problem. And, if newspaper publishers are the problem, how do we help them find the right business model? Is there any newspaper out there that has found this elusive business model? Thank you for the thought-provoking discussion.