On the assassination of journalism
I have no left brain.
In high school, I was never particularly great at anything—except maybe dodgeball, until it was removed from the curriculum for being “too dangerous.” I was above average at memorizing things for the very brief fleeting moment before test time. I skated by in classes that required any sort of calculations or numerical analysis. I cared about success and grades and that was about it—content didn’t matter. And then I started writing.
When I was in the 10th grade, I enrolled in a course on print journalism at my high school. I had a general knack for putting words together in an order that made just enough sense, hated grammatical errors and spent most of my leisure time scouring newspaper sports sections. I started writing, and it turned out I was good enough to keep doing it. Very graciously, I still write, almost strictly for pleasure and for the intrinsic value of standing on the proverbial soapbox that is this opinion column.
Soon enough, writing became my thing. Journals filled, Word documents with black and white textual feelings and emotions abounded. But after eight years of this, I worry, like many journalists, that this field is nearing its demise.
As a generation, we aren’t particularly well read. Reading has, very unfortunately, become almost inextricably associated with academia, and the ideology that someone—especially an 18- to 22-year-old student—can read for pleasure is a sad, sad thing of the past. “Leisure reading” exists solely as in-class-procrastination or summertime beach chair mind occupation. The space between these realms? Nearly non-existent for literature consumption, and that should scare us.
The changing model of journalism is creating a genre of information sharing that is hardly journalism at all. My high school journalism teacher, one of my biggest proponents and literary cheerleaders, has said since our first class together—and probably before then—that newspapers are a dying breed. Unsurprisingly so, journalism and news have shifted to online coverage—as they should—in order to cater to technological advances and the shortened attention spans of the consumers of news and information.
That being said, the shift to a digital newsstand should not, in theory, do anything to alter the investment in and support of reputable, artful journalism—journalism that takes risks and is careful in its creation all at once. But this is hardly the case, and proponents of properly-stylized, traditional journalism and news shudder to think that the world we have taken such creative comfort in may soon cease to exist, all at the hands of people who really just couldn’t care less about news.
The culprit almost singlehandedly responsible for destroying skilled, artful journalism is the infamous BuzzFeed.
There is no more cringe-worthy, nauseating organization than BuzzFeed, which pushes out a horrifyingly large amount of content over all social media with almost no informational value. “13 Reasons Why Your Best Friend is Your Hero,” “31 Grilled Cheeses That Are Better Than a Boyfriend” and “The 30 Most Important Onesies in the History of Fashion” are not news stories. But wait! They must be, because they all appeared within a few scrolls of my Facebook news feed, and they are all attached to BuzzFeed.
We are all consumers of information, consumers of news—and we are all busy, motivated people in some form or another. This rapidly spinning world doesn’t want us unbagging a curled up newspaper and perusing it from front to back every morning. This world demands less time, less energy exertion and less content to filter in order to get us the information we need. Newspapers aren’t dying due to a lack of information—the content is there, living and breathing. But we are too preoccupied with the information we don’t need and the information we get from citizen journalists—like your mom’s Fox News recap tweets or your second cousin’s Facebook statuses—to enjoy the real, hearty, heavy stuff.
Cue BuzzFeed. How can a “news” site produce such mind-melting garbage material that isn’t news at all? How does it get away with it when, according to the company’s mission statement, it asserts that it “provides the most shareable breaking news, original reporting, entertainment and video across the social web.” In its mission statement, BuzzFeed makes no mention of opinion-oriented “writers,” a term used sparingly and no doubt grudgingly here.
BuzzFeed is anything but journalism. There are no sources, no evidence, no basis for rational thought—which is fine for a website, until it is considered an active “journalistic organization,” as BuzzFeed is. It is not news. It is not powerful. Journalism is dying, and when its fate lies at the suffocating hands of new organizations like this, there is little we can do to revive it.
“Write something worth reading, or do something worth writing,” a quote by Benjamin Franklin—a learned, well read, heavily published guy. A guy we should probably still be listening to. But we are doing nearly everything to do the opposite.
Our attention spans rival those of bowl-bound goldfish. Three seconds and we’re done. One hundred and forty characters, and we’re done. A few more years, a few less print news organizations, and we’re done.
Ashley Camano is a Trinity senior. Her column runs every other Thursday. Send Ashley a message on Twitter @smashleycamando.