About That Book

I think I should finally discuss my class’s textbook: The News About the News: American Journalism in Peril. Keeping with my recent cheery mood, and suitable for the nice-enough-for-March weather, I’ll say what I like for now. Chapter Three has definitely been one of my favorites (probably my absolute favorite–but I’ve yet to finish the whole thing, so I’ll try to keep hope). It’s titled “News That Makes a Difference”.

When I decided to major in journalism, I told myself I’ll write anything for anyone whenever I can–but I will never write for a tabloid. Most written material matters in some way, big or small, for entertainment or exposure and everything in between; but tabloids are distinctly worthless. I don’t care who’s pregnant or gaining weight or losing weight or getting married or getting divorced or suing the paparazzi–things like that happen to normal people every day (except that last item). Celebrities frequently aren’t worthy news subjects; when they are in the news they should be doing something so exceptional a normal person would be equally exalted or abhorred for doing the same.

As the chapter explains, not every big story is Watergate-level scandal–sometimes it’s something interesting (and a bit suspicious), like Scientology becoming tax-exempt. Journalism can dig deeper into subjects normal people don’t get to experience on a daily basis–or maybe it’s something we all experience on a daily basis, but never think about until it’s shown in a different light–exemplified in the well-known article on ketchup (main point being: there’s a hundred different flavors of mustard, but only one ketchup–excluding the mistaken foray into green & purple varieties in the ’90s, but let’s pretend that didn’t happen).

I want what I write to matter. Somehow. To anyone, even one person, a little bit. And the first person my writing should matter to is me. Because if I don’t care, I can’t make anyone else care. So here it is, in writing, my promise on making my work matter: I will never write bad tabloid articles. I will write about anything else in the world, because anything else in the world will matter more.

Social Media

We know the problems with social media (my own personal issues, as well as the world’s–privacy, egotism, et cetera). But social media is actually one of the best tools journalists have today.

Facebook is seen as a viable business platform, but it isn’t much use for spreading news quickly and accurately. Facebook will let you share with your friends and promote to your fans, but it’s hard to reach outside of your usual social bubble without significant eddort and promotion.

Twitter and Tumblr have it right in this respect: they allow “followers”–strangers who are interested in what you’re saying have the option to bookmark you and be automatically updated whenever you have a new post. Then they can share it with people who have followed them, who may or may not have similar interests. This means your information is spread faster and more effectively than if you only told your closest friends (as on Facebook, or the ancient platform of MySpace).

In turn, when you have gained a significant following on these even-more-social (relative to Facebook) social media sites you will become more determined to provide better content for your audience. There’s no blogger in existence who hasn’t apologized to their readership at least once for not posting often enough. So you’re more motivated, and at the same time your content will be refining itself–what does your audience want? what are they interested in? what will they come back for, what will they share? The content will (hopefully) increase in quality and be consistent in volume. Twitter, Tumblr and like sites are perfect for finding your online niche. Post what you’re interested in, get feedback, refine, rinse, repeat.

In the end, keep Facebook for personal connections–but make sure to use everything else out there to your advantage.

Swears

I wrote previously on the changing of our society to one of Paper Plate Culture. This doesn’t nearly encompass all of the changes we’re going through. To tackle another one: swearing.

Swearing is one of the final taboos in most countries, and it’s on the way out. It’s been on the way out for a long time, really. The infamous “Seven Dirty Words” have been comedy routine inspiration since the 60s; in the early 2000s Dane Cook alone probably broke the swearing record on a daily basis. And let’s not forget the Matrix Reloaded, which brought to viewers’ attention the wonders of French swearing (essentially, say anything profane, connect it to another profane word or phrase with an appropriate article in between, and repeat until you’ve exhausted your repertoire). I do not have a single friend who doesn’t swear occasionally (in fact, most swear profusely and proudly). And you know what they say, if you don’t know who “that friend” is… it’s you.

(Yes, I’m the friend who doesn’t swear, at all, ever. But that’s a post for another day.)

Joining me, on the side of not swearing, is the media. Journalists have historically avoided obscenity—and it makes sense, given that obscenity is one of very few criteria that give reason for prior restraint (that’s censorship or restricted publishing, to any non-journalists). Perhaps in coming years the media will feel less restricted as swearing permeates all of our society, and swearing becomes colloquial and acceptable—even a way to relate better to viewers. I’ll be watching anxiously for the first unscripted, uncensored swear in the news.