The only thing truly predictable in journalism is the unpredictable. Sure, news is going to happen all day every day, but trying to determine which stories will make the most impact often requires a sixth sense—or just the right amount of influence to create your own buzz.
Within the last 20 years, traditional journalism has faced opposition during a time when inquiring minds demand expedience over accuracy. The rise of internet publication has turned news gathering and reporting into a race to see “who told it first?” instead of “who told it best?” Many journalists are left questioning their own ethics.
The online news organization BuzzFeed, who began generating influential content almost a decade ago, has found success in catering to the interests of a generation tired of the humdrum of traditional subject-verb-object journalism.
Numbered lists detailing things like the “Top 10 Cutest Pet Costumes” or “25 Ways Your Favorite Actor Actually Sucks” draw in increased Web readership that readers will talk about around the company water cooler for weeks. Meanwhile, political conflict or economic collapse continues to surge in other parts of the world, but at least everyone at work will be up-to-date on who wore it best on the red carpet.
Blog media network Gawker has gained notoriety in a similar fashion, combining web-sourced content like celebrity gossip and opinion-based reviews about the latest and greatest consumer products and gadgets.
Like BuzzFeed, Gawker’s publication model has historically seemed to be more about quantity versus quality. As traditional news organizations continue to dwindle in staff members, aspiring journalists are grasping at job opportunities, even if it means compromising the ideals and ethics that have defined news writing for so many generations.
Several of these influential, news-generating companies have recently shifted their business practices, introducing content they say holds up in the world of serious journalism. But is it too late for them to garner a serious readership?
Certainly it isn’t difficult to see how reading about terrorism in Europe might not hold as much credibility when the story published next to it surveys the average penis size in every country.
Yet we continue to nurture these companies, sharing content at the click of a button and spreading news—fact or fiction—faster than a drug-resistant virus.
The journalist’s biggest challenge in today’s world of instant gratification is to tell his or her story in the most captivating and memorable way. Choosing effective words is more than just skilled sentence structure—a poorly written headline or misspelled name could inflict irreparable damage on the reputation of a writer and the news outlet as a whole.
There is an incredible social impact to publishing content that leaves a lasting impression on society. Sure, there is a financially measurable desire for stories that pertain to topics unaffiliated with politics or economy or war, but at some point we need to acknowledge and distinguish reality from farce and hold each journalist, and the organizations paying the bills, accountable for the content published.
In the quest for truth, we must remind ourselves of our motivation and our responsibility for documenting history. We can take the easy path by clicking “share” and promoting the next viral meme, or we can choose the high road, verifying our sources and fact-checking the story.
One hundred years from now, it will be far more admirable to be known as the journalist who interviewed the top diplomats of the world instead of the journalist who blogged the top Instagram photos of the week.