One of the biggest problems with journalism today is that it’s transporting a worldview associated with filling up the limited space of a printed page into a new media world where that page is limitless. This is true on the Internet, obviously, where opinion and analysis columns have become blogs and news reporting has moved to the Twittersphere. The shift is also apparent on television, where an increasing number of 24-hour cable news stations echo the same vast emptiness of air time demanding to be filled.
When the column inches of a newspaper or magazine ran out, there was no more need for additional writing or reporting. Journalists had to limit themselves to only the most important stories and only the ones to which they had something to say. Now that requirement is abolished.
Anything can be published, which has led to: everything should be published. As a rabid sports (or anything else) fan, this is actually a positive development. I’ve never heard anyone complain that there’s too much coverage of a topic they care about. For example, in this corner of the web there is an insatiable appetite for specific NFL and Eagles news. Local beat writers can publish a story about the fourth-string tight end and people will want to read it. They can tweet the mundane minutiae of training camp to a rapt audience of followers.
Again, this is good. Or it would be, if journalists could find enough real, solid reporting and analysis to fill the unlimited potential. But all it takes is a few minutes of ESPN coverage to clue you in to the fact that there’s a much easier way to fill those minutes: reaction, endless reaction.
Valuable reporting still exists, both at the largest and smallest levels. But the majority of “content” put out on the web and on TV is simple, uniformed reaction to those few original pieces.
When Bill Barnwell at Grantland throws some statistics out that question DeSean Jackson’s true value, the reactions came swiftly from every corner of the web. 140 characters here, a few sentences and some pull-out quotes there, giving half a shake of agreement or anger. Last night, Deadspin decided to react to a Michael Vick interview in GQ before the article even came out. Soon we had instant reactions to that first, ethically dubious reaction, with more certainly on the way. The state of reactionism is so bad that writers now complain when information about a player’s possibly life-threatening health concerns isn’t leaked to them ahead of schedule. There’s no appropriate response other than deference, respect, and relief, yet being first in line to make your voice heard matters?
Ultimately, journalists and publishers have to realize that they can never actually fill the vast server space they now have at their disposal. It’s impossible. So instead of trying to do so by focusing on endless, mindless reactions and retweets, it’s time to change up the pattern.
You don’t have to be first on anything by a few second or minutes. You don’t have to respond to every bit of news with repetitive drivel. More is better, but more crap isn’t worth the pixels it’s printed on.
Photo from Getty.