I recently had the opportunity to speak to a middle school creative writing class about journalism. To my great relief, they were excited by my presence, small as that of a high school journalist may be.
I started off my presentation with a game. I flicked through photos of pop-culture figures (Donald Trump, Taylor Swift, etc.) and asked the kids to shout out the corresponding names as quickly as possible. As competition-driven children, they enjoyed this. But then I posed my first question: How do you know these people?
They stared at me blankly, which I kind of expected. So I answered my own question.
We see them on TV, in magazines, the Internet – whatever medium we choose. Journalism is the reason we know these people.
Then, I saw something I hadn’t expected: A few little a-ha moments. Something clicked in their adolescent minds, and they will be forever the more media-savvy because of it. (At least, that’s what I tell myself).
What does this have to do with the New New Journalism?
These children are the ones who will be subjected to its forces. They’re not opposed to traditional journalism; my arrival prompted one of them to ask if they could write for the school newsletter. They were excited when I handed out the print version of my high school’s paper, and even asked if they ‘got to’ keep it – as if it were some kind of privilege to own a copy of our paper. Journalism, in its unadulterated form, interested them.
The headline of this post is inspired by a term coined in the mid-twentieth century to describe a new era of journalism. This “New Journalism,” as the journalist Tom Wolfe writes in an essay on the topic, “was more intense, more detailed and certainly more time consuming than anything that newspaper or magazine reporters, including investigative reporters, were accustomed to.” New Journalism utilizes creative techniques and specialized reporting to give readers an in-depth understanding of whatever topic is being written about. The goal of this New Journalism is to delve into matters of importance, and display them in an engaging way – a form of journalism that lives on to this day, in publications like the New Yorker.
This New New Journalism, as I have dubbed it, stares that form of journalism in the eyes and eviscerates it.
The media seems to think it needs to stoop down to speak to this generation. It needs to pump out stories about ‘The Dress,’ celebrity fashion, and Donald Trump’s hair. It needs to keep pace with fads instead of going off the mainstream in search of actual news. As a result, we find ourselves keeping up with the Kardashians, regardless of whether we really want to.
This ideology even spurred the venerable New York Times to create what they call an ‘Express Team,’ whose purpose is to “quickly develop articles when a topic begins gathering steam on social media.” The reasoning behind this, according to the senior editor quoted in the editorial defending the team, is that “The Times can no longer just decide, high on its mountaintop, what is news.” The article goes on to defend the (pandering) Express Team as a way of keeping the newspaper afloat “in an era when The Times has to reinvent itself to survive.”
My experience with journalism has taught me that, yes, in some ways the Internet allows for broader access to news outlets and therefore the quick spread of meaningful information. There is value in utilizing the Internet’s unique platforms, however, doing so at the expense of covering topics of significance lobotomizes journalists and their quest for the whole truth.
What the Express Team and Friends neglect to notice is the original intent of journalism: to break news, not reiterate it. The reason the Times, and other publications of its caliber, are deemed trustworthy is because of their history of what is historically known as muckraking – digging into, and cleaning up, the most unsavory places. As journalists, that is our job – to go where no (truth-telling) man has gone before. The public has other tasks that consume them during the day, and are therefore incapable of searching out news for themselves. By using the New New Journalism, media organizations sabotage what makes them unique in an attempt to remain likeable.