Clay Shirky on Journalism and Print Media

I don’t know if journalism is really a dying art. People still want (and need) good quality journalism, but perhaps its forms are taking broader shapes, and mixing with other types of news and art forms. The rise of high quality documentaries for example. But certainly the traditional print newspaper is doomed.

Clay Shirky writes about this certain demise over at The Medium. I picked out a few quotes which I thought were constructive for progress:

The first piece of advice is the most widely discussed in journalism circles — get good with numbers. The old ‘story accompanied by a chart’ was merely data next to journalism; increasingly, the data is the journalism. Nate Silver has changed our sense of political prediction. ProPublica has tied databases to storytelling better than anyone in the country. Homicide Watch can report more murders (all of them, in fact), using fewer people, than the Washington Post. Learning to code is the gold standard, but even taking an online class in statistics and getting good at Google spreadsheets will help. Anything you can do to make yourself more familiar with finding, understanding, and presenting data will set you apart from people you’ll be competing with, whether to keep your current job or get a new one.

Second, learn to use social media tools to find stories and sources. Social media was first absorbed as a marketing tool, but a medium that allows direct access to the public is also a journalistic one. Examples small and large, from photos of a plane landing in the Hudson River to the Guardian’s crowd-sourced analysis of hundreds of thousands of Parliamentary expense reports, rely on a more permeable relationship between the newsroom and the outside world. Practice reading conversations on Facebook and looking at photos on Instagram to look for story ideas; understand how a respectful request for assistance on Twitter or WeChat can bring out key sources or armies of volunteers.

There was one other common reaction among the people I spoke with about the coming changes: almost to a person, they noted that journalists can no longer rely on their employers to provide the opportunities to learn new skills.

With regards to the last point, this is true for almost any profession today, so I don’t feel too sorry for them. Your employer employs you, you train yourself. We’re in the motivation economy now.

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