Newspapers, TV News Need Better Presentation

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I just can’t explain it. In an article I read this morning, Leonard Downie Jr., former executive editor of the Washington Post, has some critical words for the Huffington Post and other news aggregators.

“Though they purport to be a new form of journalism, these aggregators are primarily parasites living off journalism produced by others,” said Downie, who edited the Washington Post for 17 years until 2008 and is now the paper’s vice-president at large.

Now, hang on a second. The reason the Huffington Post — which I happen to like and read almost every day — is so popular is because it uses the same content everyone else has? If so, why aren’t the folks who create this content in the first place equally successful?

The problem isn’t the news-gathering process. It’s the process of presenting the news. Let me explain.

Newswriting is boring. Staid. Old-fashioned. Dull. In fact, it’s downright snooze producing.

TV news? Same. Anchors and reporters in suits and ties, standing outside buildings where news happened hours ago telling us what has already occurred.

These journalism models were successful in another era — an era when there weren’t competitors that were doing anything differently. But today, we have all sorts of voices presenting the news in interesting ways.

In case Downie missed this fact, the Huffington Post has all manner of bloggers who provide original opinions on the news of the day. It does run wire-service news and photos, but doesn’t The Washington Post do the same? Seems a little hypocritical to me…

One thing Downie said that I completely agree with is the following:

“The best journalism being produced now –- thanks to the same forces of change that have so disrupted the old order -– is arguably better than ever.”

“Journalists can gather news and information much more widely and deeply on the internet. They can update and supplement their reporting continuously on blogs and social media – and they can have their reporting enriched and fact-checked by their audiences.”

Indeed, the news reporting that is taking place today is superior to what we had just a decade ago. It is faster and more complete. The only problem: It is being written and presented in a style that has changed little in the past 30 years.

I really think before news executives go out and criticize the new generation of online news providers, they ought to take a look at their own houses. Are the “parasites” to blame for their woes — or their own, staid products?

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