What should blogging web designers learn from journalism?

 by Martin Belam, 31 January 2011

If the main shtick of this blog can crudely be reduced to "stuff news organisations and journalists can learn from digital design", then here is the complete opposite, an article about what web designers can learn from journalism. "We can do better: the overlooked importance of professional journalism" was written by Dan Redding for Smashing Magazine, one of the leading sites for web designers.

In the article, Dan argues that anyone within the web design community who publishes "news, events, opinions or interviews" online should familiarize themselves with the basics of journalism. It is interesting to see someone from outside of the industry picking the elements that they think give the trade value - verification, accuracy over direct quotations, writing strong opening lines, using active tenses, writing in positive terms and thinking about the ethics of what you are doing.

The comment thread is eye-opening too - with user after user queuing up to say that because of the woeful standards of the mainstream media these days, there is nothing of worth to be learned from journalistic practice. This comment is typical:

"Some good points, though the issue is cloudy because the mainstream media outlets we think of as employers of 'journalists' do not remotely subscribe to the notion that: 'Journalism is the pursuit of truth, accuracy and fairness in the telling of a story.'"

Truly, estate agents have nothing to fear from journalists at the moment in the popularity stakes - not helped in the UK I'm sure by the ongoing ethical squalor of the phone-hacking story. Author Dan Redding has joined in the thread with a defence of the profession:

"I am surprised by the disdain and bitterness towards journalism that's revealed in some of these comments. Just because we might object to the content/approach/bias of Publication X, does not devalue core journalism principles that have been in development for centuries. Journalism, after all, has been with us much longer than the Internet has. The profession of journalism is now evolving - albeit tumultuously - to adapt to online media, just like most other industries. Perhaps these hard feelings towards journalism are symptoms of that disruptive evolution. Or maybe people have always disagreed over how news stories are told."

You can read Dan's full article here: "We can do better: the overlooked importance of professional journalism"


I think the issue with journalism right now is they are trying to cover a lot of ground with not much man power. In terms of writing, they are trying to be blogs, in volume of work, news outlets, in recency, and social aggregators in terms of popularity of work. Basically they are trying to be mashable + reddit + perez hilton with only one journalist and one staff editor.

If you look at something like The Economist which has a subscription model. They are growing in subscribers, and value, because they are sticking to what they know...

I agree completely. I feel like many journalistic endeavors are failing nowadays because they are trying to cater to the masses, when the mass is just too large. There are so many different facets of news and information, with the amount of outlets we have now, with technology and blogging, etc, it is impossible to cover everything. It is best if news reporters and writers choose one main focus and as a cooperation, people work together to write about certain specific topics. Leave the other topics to OK magazine...

I like reading your blog. It often gets me thinking & gives me ideas for articles on my own blog. Ideas tangential to your articles (I'm not plagiarising)

My opinion is that professional news media is going to undergo radical changes in the next 10 to 20 years because of two main factors. First it has lost its role as gate keeper of information. Twenty five years ago we could only obtain information made available through expensive and rare printing presses and international networks of reporters. Today we can obtain and spread information at almost no cost through the Internet ... we can (at least in theory source our own information from random strangers who were on the spot)

The second is journalists will need to adopt and reveal biases. Journalists were expected to avoid bias in reporting. Bloggers are expected to take a stand and reveal their biases, but can be as biased as we like. As the printed press gives way to the on-line newspaper sub-editors can be in a low wage country and as long as they are just cutting down reportage into factual news stories can probably do well enough. This means that those with a voice will need to move from straight reporting to editorialising and when they do they will need to explain where their opinion comes from which (hopefully) will involve revealing their biases.

Sorry, no facts to back this up, as I said it's opinion, based on my biases.

I think it's the "content/approach/bias of Publication X," that does INDEED "devalue core journalism principles." Too many "journalists" fail miserably in their job of reporting news without bias that readers lump all journalists together in one pot and say they can't be trusted. If we saw more real journalism, we might see less of this attitude toward journalism, in general.

I'm not saying by any means it doesn't exist, I know it does, but it's that problem of generalization in any form. Because there's one "bad egg" in the bunch, we tend to think all the eggs are bad. Wouldn't it be nice to see a return to the trust in journalists we used to have?

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