One of the many many things I need to worry about in the next couple of weeks is getting my summer section of English 444: Writing for the World Wide Web up and running. It’s increasingly difficult for me to decide what “counts” as “writing” for the “world wide web,” but generally, I have stayed pretty literal with exercises that focus on coding, blogging, and wiki-ing. Last year, we read a number of things about citizen journalism, and, since we locally have a front row seat to the demise of print newspapers (the Ann Arbor News is calling it quits after 174 years), I might include even more on journalism and the ‘net.
All a long prelude to a very good commentary by Dan Froomkin, “Why ‘playing it safe’ is killing American newspapers.” Besides talking about the money issues, Froomkin says smart stuff like this:
But we’re hiding much of our newsrooms’ value behind a terribly anachronistic format: voiceless, incremental news stories that neither get much traffic nor make our sites compelling destinations. While the dispassionate, what-happened-yesterday, inverted-pyramid daily news story still has some marginal utility, it’s mostly a throwback at this point — a relic of a daily product delivered on paper to a geographically limited community. (For instance, it’s the daily delivery cycle of our print product that led us to focus on yesterday’s news. And it’s the focus on maximizing newspaper circulation that drove us to create the notion of “objectivity” — thereby removing opinion and voice from news stories — for fear of alienating any segment of potential subscribers.)
The Internet doesn’t work on a daily schedule. But even more importantly, it abhors the absence of voice. There’s a reason why opinion writing tends to dominate the most-read lists on our “news” sites. Indeed, what we’ve seen is that Internet communities tend to form around voices — informed, passionate, authoritative voices in particular. (No one wants to read a bored blogger, I always say.)
Oh, and this is via what looks like a nice site, Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University.