Neither side gets journalism now

Neither old nor new media have come to terms with what is self-evidently still working and what obviously still needs fixing

The ‘mainstream media’

They’re the ‘let’s do journalism the way we have always done it” brigade.

They work hard to secure ‘preferential access’ from ‘authorities’ (very bad, it inherently results in ‘uncritical reportage’) and they use ‘reporters on the ground’ (very good) and have editors (good) but their editorial process is not transparent (very bad). Both content flow and prominence management are ‘single medium oriented’ (good for one medium, terrible for all others)

The ‘online news only’ brigade

They mostly do opinions on other news outlets’ coverage (good, the more the merrier) and fact-checking (very good) but they do very little if any of their own ‘on the spot reporting’ (bad, they could easily do plenty of this this but rarely bother) and rarely have editors or an editorial process (mostly good for opinion-based content, very bad for almost anything else). Content flow usually leaves their audience under-served and prominence management is primitive (both very bad).

What do they both REALLY not get?

  • You badly need to both produce and consume both of the above! All the time.
  • Each needs to do the same (good) things that the other does, and fix all the bad things
  • They both have opaque or ‘subliminal’ editorial processes: this undermines trust in all news
  • They are each guilty of different types of digital-hostile ‘unnecessary minimalism’
  • They are both too ‘channelised’, everything is squeezed into ‘single shapes of treatment’
  • Their prominence management is fettered by outdated digital and non-digital constraints
  • ‘Digital first’ is something big old mainstream media outlets still see as terrifying and wrong
  • ‘Editorial process’ is a thing new media either denies, avoids, or does very conventionally
  • Editorial transparency is something both old and new media see as mostly unnecessary
  • You can’t ‘exhaust news appetites’ in the digital world, yet old and new media think you can
  • Both only make token efforts to ‘shape news consumption experiences’ using new tools
  • It’s as if the real freedoms conferred by digital are seen as curses by both old and new media

New media sees the freedom conferred by on-demand technology as an excuse for sloppiness.

Old media sees it as something to be eschewed to avoid distraction from their business model.

The examples of new media that are clear signposts to the future are few and seriously flawed.

The examples of old media that have learned anything at all from new media are rare.

Where to start putting this right?

Editorial transparency (and then move onto improving prominence management and content flow).

The most important news about a news outlet is how it decides how to treat each story.

In a world where trust is being broken all the time, in real time, nothing can fix it permanently.

Instead of seeing this as ‘cross to bear’, this can be embraced as an opportunity by news media.

Trust is not just a condition, it is a process.

Everything new is being consumed in a swirling vortex of acceptance and scepticism all the time.

This balance of trust is constantly changing, in real time for both reporters and consumers.

Maintaining this balance is an unending struggle. Embrace it. Surface it. It is fantastic content.

The struggle itself may be painful, but this very fact makes it exciting. Share the struggle.

Make the process of handling this process more visible: real-time ‘behind the scenes’ in a news process is not just an afterthought or an optional extra, it’s how digital tech enables us to turn a ‘news outlet’ into a real-life experience, rather than the fake ‘actuality theatre’ of old news media.