We are in a very uncertain age for journalism, both in its presentation as well as its credibility. Any time news is reported in our current “truthiness” climate, one has to take it with a grain of salt. Each journalistic body’s slant is more evident than ever before and somehow it is still taken as the absolute truth. It’s a sad day when a good number of young Americans turn to “Comedy Central” for their trusted news source and eschew something called “Fox News.” The line between opinion and fact has never been more blurred and it seems to be working (much to my chagrin). But could hope be found in a Deadspin article where someone goes around showing people photos of Brett Favre’s penis?
Yes, I’m being serious. The hope for new journalism is exhibited in what I can only assume was a stunt. Deadspin sent their intern David Matthews to New Meadowlands stadium Monday night for Favre’s return game against the Jets with, “a FlipCam, three cock shots, and no sense of social mores.” Throughout the piece, written in a standard newspaper format, Matthews goes around and tries to get people to look at Favre’s penis, which, all told, is not the most journalistic of endeavors. But the magic is in what he captures and how.
Too often people “report” the news through their own filter. Yes, of course, any time someone experiences an event, or meets someone, or hears something, they will interpret it through whatever their personal biases are and write it that way to be read by millions. That inherent ability of journalism to twist things in this way has become one of its failings. The way I always view “reporting” is to give an account of what went on, with the most amount of objectivity possible. This puts a lot of good faith in the reporter to simply transcribe what’s going on. But when you have one person in a situation, the fight is against subjectivity. It’s difficult to divorce how the one person saw it and how they experienced it. It lends itself to be slanted.
One of the great advantages of new media–and the much-needed death of newspapers–is how we can use technology and mixing of medias to create a more honest reporting. Instead of having Matthews describe to us how the people reacted, we get to see it the exact same way he experienced it. We get to essentially take the role of journalist and cut out the middle man. Nothing can get lost in the transfer.
This specific style reminds me of the old days of television journalism, specifically Edward R. Murrow’s famed “See It Now” television show. What is so striking about the show is how objective they aimed for the show to be. There was a segment I have seen (that I unfortunately cannot find online) that delved into the issue of de-segregating schools in the south, shot weeks before the plan went in to law. Murrow sent a reporter and camera crew down to two high schools in Georgia (or Alabama, or Florida….), one all-white, one all-black, and had the students discuss their feelings on the issue.
They cut the piece almost exactly in half, giving equal opinion to those opposed and those for. It was a frank look at the issue from the people who were going to be most affected: the students themselves. What was most surprising was how opinions differed on either side of the issue, black and white. There were black kids who were against the idea, white kids who were for it, and they gave specific reasons that spoke to why they felt this way. The segment ended with the reporter saying when the law would be passed and when these two schools would merge into one. Then the piece ended, leaving the viewer to ruminate. What a novel idea.
The Deadspin is a mixture of both video and text, as one of the failings of this new system is a person’s right of refusal to be shown on camera. But my point can be made by solely using the first video. There are two Jets fans who don’t know if they should look…but have a morbid curiosity, so they decide to glance. Their reactions are priceless. The bemused laughter from the two lets their parents in, and they come over to look and giggle, making the son push his dad out of the way.
This format allows much more than just one myopic viewpoint on a single idea. In a story about one thing (Favre penis) we get an extra bit of the human condition. How people are able to do something once others do it as well, how we’re all not comfortable enough as a society to see parts of someone’s anatomy (for better or worse – I’m not claiming this is a failing), the weird thing of sharing a penis-looking experience with your dad…it goes on and on, giving more than a written piece could ever allude to.
The tools are only as powerful as those using it, however. We haven’t had a news program in the style of See It Now for decades. But television news programs are driven almost exclusively by ratings and advertising sales, not credibility. And while there is certainly a drive for readership at online sites (Deadspin themselves paid a good deal for the Favre story and materials, in an obvious example), the internet’s viewership pie is already cut into much smaller pieces in comparison to network TV, hopefully allowing for more honest work in the end.
With the utilization of HTML 5 right around the corner that makes embedding video easier and more widespread, coupled with products like the Kindle and the iPad, the internet will be our one-stop shop for news, entertainment, and…well, just about everything else non-material in life. This gives us a rare chance to re-vamp a sector of our society that is being woefully subjected to other forces that cripple its power. Journalism has a new lease on life, which also gives me a bit of a positive outlook for the future. Or this will just be business as usual, just translated to a computer, throwing away a golden opportunity. Even if it’s currently being used to show reactions of people looking at a famous person’s penis.