Good journalism: is there a line?

During Monday’s lecture, we talked more about what makes a good multimedia story and about ways to present them. The pieces were  really interesting examples of ways to make a story, no matter how small it might seem, powerful.

My personal favorite was a video, audio and photo montage called “A Thousand More”. It’s about a family whose son was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy. Philly Meyer’s spine was underdeveloped, causing his motor skills weaken. They were told he wouldn’t live past seven. The piece went on to highlight how the family members cope and are doing everything in their power to give their son a full life. I thought the story was quite well done. The interaction between audio, video and photography was almost seamless. The piece was emotionally moving and definitely opened up my eyes to see obstacles everyday people might have to face in their lives.

In seeming contrast to this first story, we rounded off the class with an example of how any story could be interesting: a fast-motion video of man raking a yard. Was it amusing? Certainly. But absolutely unlike the emotionally charged examples we watched earlier in the period.

The difference between these two videos really makes me think more about what makes good journalism. Is it true, as I am being told, that anything can be a good story? Can I comfortably put a boy with a spinal disease in the same overarching category as yard work? (Granted, I am fairly sure there was a larger purpose for his work. Unfortunately, the memory escapes me because we watched this video at the tail end of class, and some of the details got lost in the midst of closing binders and notebooks.) I’ve written stories in the past that I was told were not newsworthy. So where is the line drawn?

I think this is one of the parts of journalism that really makes me think. I absolutely love the concept that anything can be a story, but I’ve definitely had ideas shot down for not being important enough. When I was in high school newspaper, I shot some down myself.

Something that really helped me get my head around this perspective was a link I found on the class Twitter list. It’s about a journalism graduate who couldn’t find a job, so she decided to interview 100 people in a year and posted their stories on her Tumblr site. (Full disclosure: I wrote about this link on a personal blog as well, but I made sure the two posts are distinctly different.) The idea is that everyone has a story, that anyone can be interesting.

I think this went along really well with what we’ve been talking about in class, that anything can be a good story, it just depends on how you present it. There’s always something to write about, something people don’t know. The point is to find a way to help them want to know. And as the different news stories I’ve seen this week illustrate, there’s a lot journalists can teach people.

So is there a metaphorical line dividing the “newsworthy” from the “nobody cares?” At some point, probably. But I’m beginning to think it’s much blurrier than I’ve always believed. While my first inclination as a young journalist is to look only for the new, the novel, the headline news, I’m excited to learn ways to tell everyday stories, to show that any story really can be interesting and relevant.

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3 thoughts on “Good journalism: is there a line?

  1. Your work is again, quite insightful and polished. You spent enough time developing your thoughts and concepts to create an overarching theme and focus, and doled out enough personal information to keep me invested in your connection to the stories. I’m interested in knowing how long this took you to write – if you’ve been working at this type of writing for long enough that it comes naturally, or if you are in the practice of editing your work before publishing it. Either way, it’s top-notch.

    I’m inclined to try and answer your question of “what’s newsworthy?”, but you’re already on the path to discovering that answer yourself, and anything I say would simply be a diversion. Keep up the good work.

    • Thank you for your encouragement. I enjoy hearing others’ thoughts on my writing; they helps me realize I might be headed in the right direction with my future.

      While this is my first time consistently writing for a specific class, I’ve been keeping a personal blog for about a year now. I think this has given me a fairly decent amount of experience writing down my thoughts and trying to get them in order. And while writing in high school and writing in college are quite different, I did a monthly column for my high school paper that basically gave me free reign to write whatever my thoughts were about life, school and anything else I could think to tell the student body. I guess you could say semi-introspective/insightful writing is kind of my forte. I think my time in the J-school has definitely helped my writing, though, by teaching me to look over my work and be less verbose. My next goal is getting my writing to work well in the newsroom, learning to keep my writing interesting while minimizing my opinions.

      • You might have better luck trying to edit another reporter’s work while working on your own if you’re trying to figure out how to keep your writing interesting and minimizing your opinions. That might sound like a back-handed compliment, but it’s a heck of a lot easier to recognize unimportant opinions and boring text in something you didn’t write. Recognizing a fault for a fault can help to flip that switch in our brains that says, “My writing is EXCELLENT!” to “My writing is POTENTIALLY EXCELLENT!”. It’s a bit more work to take on, editing a friend’s work while writing your own, but I guarantee it’s worth the effort.

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