It’s Pulitzer Prize time and maybe that’s as good a time as any to look at the news business as a whole and see what’s happening out there.
First off, speaking about the Pulitzers, this year they declined to award a prize for feature news writing, which says one of two things — either nobody is writing any good feature stories out there, or the Pulitzer judges are way too high up on their journalistic horses.
Personally I find it very hard to believe no good feature stories were entered in the contest this year and tend to lean toward the second explanation. Such contests are always subjective anyway, so the judges determining there wasn’t a worthy candidate probably says a lot more about the contest than the writing. Looking at the entries it seems like at least one of them would have been pretty good.
The Dallas Morning News entered a story about a young woman’s struggle to live a normal life after years of horrible child abuse; the Los Angeles Times had an account of an ex-police officer’s nine-day killing spree in Southern California; and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel entered a tale about a group of first-year medical students in their gross anatomy class and the relationships they develop with one another and the nameless corpse on the table.
I’m voting for the cadaver story right now.
It all seems quite snooty. I’d imagine the finalists in that category need to meet in a bar somewhere, have a few and then call every one of the judges.
Looking through the Pew Research Journalism Project’s “State of the Media” for 2014, several things were interesting, but one really jumped out.
Among the projected trends for this year is the growth of “native” advertising, especially on the web. What’s native advertising, you might wonder. It’s the half-brother of what we used to pejoratively call “advertorials.”
Newspapers and TV stations have always run advertorial content, but it has also always been labeled as advertising, even as it was presented in similar format to regular news. Think about those big, grey pages of type for some kind of Amish stove or gold bullion, written as if they were news stories, but clearly labeled as ads. Or on TV, infomercials about one product or another complete with interviews that look like “Dateline” might have done them. Also labeled.
But native is designed to look even more like actual content even while it pushes a particular product. Some native advertising is easier to identify than others, and many media companies are using it to generate dollars in a digital age in which they’re trying to find more and more ways to actually make money off this Internet thing.
I’ve even seen some newspapers headed down this road, but ultimately I think it will be a huge mistake to trade editorial idealism for a fast buck. It’s one thing to run an ad that looks like an article, but is clearly marked as an ad. It’s quite another to run an ad that looks and reads like an article and was produced by editorial staff, but is actually pushing a product and was paid for by an advertiser.
That type of thing can only eventually undermine any credibility a newspaper or TV station has and will ultimately ruin the businesses. How widespread it will be remains to be seen. According to Pew, a number of big time journalists have abandoned old school employment and headed to work for online publications that traffic heavily in native advertising. I’m sure brining in the big names helps boost the companies’ credibility, but there’s no way they will sustain long-term credibility disguising ads as content.
It still seems like the web is trying to figure out how it can capture both the credibility and the moneymaking power traditional media held at their heights. I’m not so sure this is the right road to go down.