Selling the News
Mostly I'm in agreement, especially about the issue of "recognizing" news and of course the idea that all journalists don't go to journalism school!I thought my response to her might be worth considering:
However, when you say but ultimately, the audience decides what is news, not the reporters
I respectfully disagree. Sometimes, often -- and especially in international or technical news -- reporters on the ground/beat know something is significant early on and it can't interest the audience until it either builds up a head of steam or impinges on the personal/local/national concerns of the reader. It would have been easy for readers to say "who cares about break-in at the DNC at Watergate?" It would have been very easy to write it off as just another petty crime story. If it had not happened in Washington, with Washington Post readers having a vested interest in the DNC, it might have been. Can you imagine what would have happened if the office had been, say, in suburban Cleveland?
What you’re suggesting is that sometimes, when you’re trying to sell an idea that you think is important, the sales cycle is longer than you might normally expect. And I’d agree. But it’s a thin line that separates a Watergate from a Spanish American War. Too often the press has turned something into “news” when it was crap.There is a difference between making news, taking time to uncover news, and getting audience buy-in. Ultimately, if you can't get audience buy-in, you don't have news. That's not to say that the buy-in comes immediately. There will be stories that you have to develop because your audience may not see the implications right away. (I can remember having to do this with an editor who wanted to know why the business topic I suggested hadn't yet appeared in major media. The answer was that it was a growing issue and the business reporters simply didn't know about it or get it. Ultimately, it turned into a good-sized story.)
But this doesn't mean that journalists "decide" on the definition of news. They're still following what is of interest to the audience. Like good sales practitioners, they sometimes will find something that people don't realize they want. When that happens, you need patience and persistence to get the story out.
As I mentioned in that earlier post, news judgment is the ability to correctly guess more often than not when your audience will care and when they won't. And there is always the issue of having only so many resources to tell a finite amount of stories. Whether on paper or pixels, no publication ever has the people, time, and money to write every possible story. You have to make the best decision you can and hope that you're right.
Perhaps it's in the hope that the best antidote to journalistic arrogance resides. When you remember that you're mortal and fallible, the best you can do is hope that you're doing the best you can do, and remember your audience and why you write what you do. I recently had the experience of posting a story on BNET that had a couple of readers declare that I was being sensationalistic, bringing up something that they considered a non-story. I stood by my guns and said that the issue had been under reported. In this case, I was right, and the topic resurfaced in a big way a few weeks later.
Sometimes persistence pays off in a renewed sense of being on the right track and doing well in following your craft. There is that constant battle -- particularly online, with the pressure to increase page views -- between working with integrity and manipulating the system to use story topics and keywords as "link bait." But focused as I get on this blog (and in my work day) about the business of writing, I like to remember that there are things far more important than money.