My “news year” resolution

If not for the runaway success of “Serial,” I would be in a state of despair about journalism — and the public’s attitude toward journalism — as we begin 2015. It wasn’t easy to remain optimistic after the Rolling Stone debacle and after a week or so of watching cable news as I traveled for the holidays. (I watch very little TV news because it depresses me, makes me unjustifiably fearful and doesn’t meet my taste standards. I say this with apologies to my friends in broadcast news who I know are often as disillusioned as I am.)

So why does “Serial” give me hope?

Because lots of people loved it. ( I just wasn’t one of those people.) And I’m not surprised. Charles Dickens would have loved it. I see him leaning back in an easy chair, listening and puffing away at a pipe. Or a cigar. All of Dickens’ novels were published serially. Good business sense had a lot to do with it; he was able to build an enormous audience via serialization. He gave people something to talk about over the teapot (the Victorian equivalent of the water cooler). What do you think will happen next?

And they loved him for it.

Not to mention the fact that he was able to describe the plight of the poor in his writing and raise public awareness about the condition of their lives in Victorian England — a worthy journalistic goal.

“Serial” is a reminder that people still love great storytelling, and that’s no great surprise. We bond over stories.

It’s also a transparent process of reporting. People got hooked on it, so it seems, because they were taken along on the twists and turns of the reporter’s journey, although the destination turns out to be unsatisfying.

Most important of all (to me), millions of people who listened to “Serial” learned how sloppy the U.S. justice process can be. Alan Dershowitz has written for The Guardian about what that might mean for Adnan Syed, the man convicted of killing Hae Min Lee.

People are still talking about the podcast, and though not all of what’s being said is positive, the “Serial” phenomenon turned my glass from half-empty to half-full. I’m a little more hopeful than I was in late November when Rolling Stone failed in its duty to its readers and made a sucker out of me.

So my news year resolution is to think even more intensely about the reader and our relationship to that person. If I bother to report something, I have to figure out how to make the reader care. What will achieve that result?

If I’m “just” (ha) telling a good story, what will keep the reader glued to his or her chair and eager for the next turn (of phrase/of the screw/the page)? It’s not necessary to sensationalize a story to make it compelling. That’s amateur hour.

Tell a person a good, true story, and you entertain the hell out of him/her. You can inform him or her about something important in the process. And the next time you have something to say, he or she might just listen.

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9 Responses to My “news year” resolution

  1. katherinejlegry says:

    “Taste standards” do not matter in journalism if you are objective and analytical. You “should” watch (on a limited but regular basis) corporate mainstream networks as well as PBS news and nightly business reports to see where and what they share in order to market their stories and more importantly sell product and or events. They are exceedingly politically driven as they act “mainstream”. A good journalist has to be informed about what the “other guys” are doing. A good journalist is not looking for what they “prefer” or how to be comfortable. They need the larger picture in order to avoid mistakes or pitfalls and also to focus on the “small story”. Then the news isn’t “depressing” or “unjustifiably fear mongering” but helping to form the integrity of your craft. In the gutting of journalism, journalism requires more now. So I think your last paragraph is right on, but the half full cup still has room and you need not fear a thing.

  2. reedkath says:

    I get your point, but I am also entitled to a little mental health time. And so I can’t (and won’t, no matter how persuasively you make the argument) subject myself to a constant diet of crappy cable news. I know what’s going on there, and I check in from time to time. But I’m not going to consume it daily like some awful processed food that I need to have in order to appreciate my delicious and nutritious green vegetables. I stay busy enough reading/ listening to/looking at all kinds of interesting stuff on line, and some really stupid stuff. I’m afraid that in order for me to function in the world, I have to draw the line somewhere. I draw it at making cable news part of my daily routine.

    • katherinejlegry says:

      I hear that completely and concur with your need for health. So I guess that’s what I mean by the “limited” exposure so you can preserve your mental health and you are already doing that.

      I think your apologies to your peers in this article set up a frame for your students though. And not a clear enough one. But a complacent sounding one. I don’t have cable. I don’t want to pay for that many unnecessary channels, but I keep basic tabs on the trends. I watch fox news once in awhile because so many are using it as a primary source of news, for example. It is depressing but its a different kind of “information” and so teaching how to sift through that and not be undermined by it seems important.

      Journalists in the field are warriors…

      Online and television news journalists… are… in business.

      Thanks for hearing me out. I’m not trying to insult you. I took journalism… I have high standards too.

      • reedkath says:

        I’m more confused by your comment than insulted. I sound complacent? Good lord! I don’t feel complacent at all.

      • katherinejlegry says:

        In the wording. In telling students or readers of the depression and inability you feel to deal with mainstream news it amplified the avoidance and minimized the investigation. Certainly you aren’t required to keep track of all cable news or whatever, and certainly it sounds like you’re keeping track of enough of them as we clarify this. As well as your peers probably help keep you in the loop. I’m not advocating feeding on crap news. But teaching journalism should include a crap news unit analysis and discussion. Maybe you do that… and you probably do not need me as a self appointed co-teacher…

        So you “sounded” complacent, but I don’t think you are that way. I think refinement of words and meanings matter to you. I actually want your writing to strengthen, particularly as a female voice. Stop apologizing.

        I don’t think you owe your peers any apologies. I think it’s okay to refer to what is good compared to base sources of news. I think it takes a great deal of time and energy and you have a difficult job.

        That being said, I apologize for the confusion. Maybe this makes more sense?

      • reedkath says:

        It does, and I am grateful you’re out there, wherever you are, nudging me toward better writing, less apology. (Maybe i DO need you as a co-teacher!) maybe this blog pf mine has become too confessional. I need to give a good think to how i talk about bad journalism and whether i am sufficiently analytical of it. Thanks.

      • katherinejlegry says:

        Thank you. I’ve lived in Chicago and New York, but currently I live in Portland, Oregon.

        This might sound like a tangent from my original stance, but the “confessional” isn’t a bad thing if how you want write about journalism is from the more personal side of it. That’s probably an important aspect of it for your students and readers to understand so they have a sense of how it can be for writers, so I don’t mean to eliminate that or squelch that part. But, I still don’t think you owe any (or at least so many) apologies. Corrections or clarifications to stories when needed, but no apologies for feeling the way you do.

        The distinction I’d make for the actual writing of journalism would be how the personal of the writer enters into it less so the reporting can be as objective as possible even as it takes you further into the personal of your subject. So I guess that’s how to connect the reader to the story and not the reporter. Which is difficult in the age of celebrity. When you wrote about not trying to sell the “sensational” as compared to the “true” story that’s what I mean by difficulty in the age of celebrity as well. I think Rollingstone fell into this trap and killed the story and elevated journalists even if only in folly.

        I truly appreciate your blog and your courage as a teacher and journalist. You’re doing great without me but thanks for listening.

  3. morvan29 says:

    Reblogged this on ressuciter and commented:
    En plus c est vrai que 2015 a mal commencé pour les journalistes avec les événements de ces derniers jour.
    Espérons que ça va s arrêter la.{\rtf1\ansi\ansicpg1252
    {\fonttbl\f0\fnil\fcharset0 ArialMT;}

    \f0\fs24 \cf2 \cb3 \expnd0\expndtw0\kerning0
    \outl0\strokewidth0 \strokec2 \

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