The new new journalism
January 07, 2007
I have seen the future of journalism and his name is Andy Abramson.
I happened to be looking at Techmeme last night, and I saw that the lead story - at the very tippy top of the heap - was a piece by Abramson, from his blog VoIP Watch. It was titled "Creative Video Blogging and the New 'Instant Journalism.'" I was intrigued. I've found that most things that are "instant" are inherently good. Like instant soup and instant coffee, for instance. They don't taste like much, but they're really quick to prepare. You boil some water, pour it into a cup - preferably styrofoam - and bingo! you're out the door and on your way. So "Instant Journalism" seemed like a concept that I could resonate to. In today's fast-paced, always-on world, who needs taste?
Here's how the piece begins:
With all that is going on this year at CES, an event I'm going to for the next few days it's going to be the independent news sources, not the main stream media where a lot of the "breaking news" and more interesting stories get told. With blogging, podcasting and video blogging from anywhere there's an IP connection, we have entered an era of "Instant Jouralism" and of "just in time" distribution of news content.
At first, I admit, I didn't "get it." It seemed like illiterate mush. But then I realized I was looking at the article through eyes corrupted by years of paying attention to the "main stream media." What I had thought were signs of a broken educational system - the seemingly random placement of commas, the spastic syntax, the obnoxious overuse of quotation marks, the goofy misspelling of "Jouralism" - were actually signs of the New Instantaneousness. "Instant Jouralists" cannot be concerned with punctuation and grammar and spelling. That stuff just "slows you down." To be an "Instant Jouralist," you have to write as if you were being pursued by a cheetah across the Serengeti. Don't stop to think. Just let it rip. And who needs that "n" in journalism anyway? I knew precisely what Abramson meant, and by dispensing with the unneeded letter, he was able to be just that much more instantaneous.
The way news is gathered, who it is gathered by, where and how it is disseminated is changing. What people want to know about, and where they go to find it, is changing too.
You can't deny it: All those things is right.
Take the Technology Evangelist, Benjamin Higginbotham, and the way he is taking creativity in blogging to the next level, using video blogging, reporting and video mail to tell people all the cool things that are happening at CES this year. The way he's doing it, asking the audience what the want covered, then going out, getting the stories and posting them to his blog is very imaginative and part of what I'm labeling "the New Journalism" which is fueled by "Instant Journalism."
Give the people exactly what they tell you they want, no more, no less. That is imaginative. I would even say it takes imagination to the next level. Now, I vaguely remember somebody else labeling something "the New Journalism" a long time ago. I think that, maybe, Tom Wolfe and Hunter Thompson and Norman Mailer were involved. But I don't remember any of them being fueled by "Instant Journalism." I think they "composed" their work before they pushed the publish button. So they were probably more like "Old New Journalists" rather than "New New Journalists."
The piece continues in its instantaneous fashion for a few more paragraphs. There are some memorable instant sentences. Like this one: "In the sake of transparency, he's doing this unsolicited but SightSpeed certainly appreciates his efforts for they, like I, know a great idea when we see it." Or this one: "At media events I have my press badge and as a member of the instant journalism world hopefully at the front of the pack, not at the back of the room." See? You can actually throw down words in a random order and still achieve near-comprehensibility!
What is going to make [CES] different this time is the Internet's new Instant Journalists. You see, for the companies that can tell their story, show their wares and which don't manufacturer hype, but have something to say, and are willing to give time to the new "Instant Journalists" will be the ones that get seen and it will be the Instant Journalists who tell that story for them like never before, in a time frame that has now become the standard, not the exception---Instantly..
I looked at Abramson's bio. He seems to be combining the roles of journalist and PR guy. That makes a lot of sense because it makes everything more efficient. I'm convinced that Abramson is right. "Instant Jouralism" is the future. Indeed, in his words we may be getting a glimpse of journalism's final resting place.
Good catches. Thanks for being my editor.
I am also editing my post and am marking the updated version as such. It doesn't change the intent, but you are so right, letter perfect is what we should have.
Posted by: Andy Abramson at January 7, 2007 10:05 AM
I've found that most things that are "instant" are inherently good. Like instant soup and instant coffee, for instance. They don't taste like much, but they're really quick to prepare. You boil some water, pour it into a cup - preferably styrofoam - and bingo! you're out the door and on your way.
Genius. Too funny.
Is it just me, or does this piece qualify as the type of post Steve Rubel recently called "mean-spirited"?
C'mon, Nick - your posts are usually so insightful and thought-provoking. Why would you spend your time taking low digs at another blog? I ask because I really like reading this blog! Or maybe I'm reading too much into this?
Posted by: NitinK at January 7, 2007 10:50 AM
Interesting to note that his mainstream media references are listed top-left on his blog. So much for 'new' or 'instant...'
Posted by: Bob McIlree at January 7, 2007 11:01 AM
Beautiful post Nick Too bad irony is seldom appreciated by instant jouralists Thoughtful editing are "over-rated" hey it is faster too type this way
Posted by: Phil Gilbert at January 7, 2007 12:09 PM
The mainstream media references speak to a) credibility, b) to point out where the medis goes to get additional commentary c) as a way of making it easy for people to find non blog content without having to weed through a search engine.
It is no different than Nicholas listing comments about his books.
If I listed every blog hit that someone wrote where there was a reference to VoIPWatch or me the list would be too long. That's not the purpose.
I'd have to agree with NitinK on this one, Nick. Although I am big fan of sarcasm as an art form, I think it should be used sparingly -- and on targets that deserve it. I don't think Andy qualifies.
If you want to critique the idea of instant journalism, I think you are more than capable of doing so -- but using Andy's misspellings and syntax as a weapon in that fight demeans your argument. Worst of all, it's not even that funny.
Posted by: mathewi at January 7, 2007 12:29 PM
Thank you Nick for providing some sanity, although the "journalism's final resting place" pushes the wrong buttons. Andy found a good SightSpeed example that helps his client (make the client happy) and extrapolated that a new form of journalism is emerging that means smaller vendors, who can't get the attention of the establishment media, can spend time with the so called instant journalists and seize the day. The means of production and distribution are in the hands of everyone (not quite)--that's all good. Wouldn't call it instant, perhaps pervasive, and wouldn't call it all journalism either.
If Nick was just poking fun at the writing, then you could criticize it as a low-blow. But the point here is that this style of writing is endemic to what the Abramson is talking about. It's not just a random potshot at someone's misspellings, it's pointing out a perhaps unwanted downside to unreviewed, stream of consciousness writing. I think the comical intro mention of instant foods sets up the piece very well.
Posted by: Anthony Cowley at January 7, 2007 01:14 PM
Hi Nick, I'd just like to mention that I'm willing to forgive a lot of grammar and punctuation mistakes - as long as the facts are straight. In regards to "instant journalism" my bigger worry above grammar is that wrong information is spread either by mistake, or intentionally. It takes time to double check stuff. I still think credibility and reputation relies more on accuracy than being first with a story.
nick: interestingly, i find that if i read your piece without the intended sarcasm, it's actually rather on target.
while i wouldn't choose to sacrifice analysis for speed, i really don't give a sh*t about the punctuation or spelling... as long as it's recent & relevant. PR conflicts aside, i'm fine with fast & fresh.
IMHO "real" journalism, instant or not, is about being:
* interesting & thoughtful
* topical & relevant (to me)
* first, or at least recent
* fair, or at least true to one's perspective
as andy & many others have shown, you can clean up the misspellings and dot the i's later... just give me the damn news.
Posted by: Dave at January 7, 2007 01:24 PM
Hilarious. But it misses the point. Andy is right, for the companies launching products at CES next week, coverage by "instant journalists" will be much more important than coverage by traditional industry press or mainstream media. Why? Because the people those companies most want to influence will be reading blogs and watching video online -- they will not be paying attention to MSM or industry media.
This is not about the death of journalism, as you suggest at the end of your piece. It is about how industrial media is dead. The old model of monolithic enterprises with a small number of people controlling what the rest of us get to read, hear, and watch is DEAD. Thank god.
Posted by: Ted Shelton at January 7, 2007 01:56 PM
To me, new journalism has more to do with providing new perspectives and stories more than it does with doing something that's capable of replacing what already exists. Just like YouTube won't destroy TV, new journalism won't destroy traditional media.
New stories from new perspectives are being told to audiences (and by audiences) who were under served by traditional media.
Posted by: Ed Kohler at January 7, 2007 02:24 PM
To concentrate on just the grammatical mistakes misses the point; plus, well, as a person with enough journalists as friends, I know many of them bless the copy editors for having their backs.
With the cutbacks at newspapers, however, those jobs are unfortunately becoming a thing of the past.
Some of us are grammar freaks (I put myself in that category). We have half-memorized the AP Style Guide, we had a very good education, lucky enough to have an understanding of punctuation, grammar and spelling.
But, Nicholas, have you read what comes out of college lately? My freshman year, I argued with the graduate student that a university was not the place to be teaching semi-colons and comma usage. The base is just not there anymore.
Let us forget the issue with grammar or spelling, and look at the underlying point. As a blogger and a PR person, I see both sides of the coin. As a PR person, I try to build relationships with bloggers, and as a blogger I get pitched by PR people. Both say to me that the media landscape is changing, and media is converging with some of these social tools. Just look at ZDNet's blogs, or how the NYTimes is using sharing tools like Digg to spread the message.
At the end of the day, it is about content. And, you know that. Plus, there are those studies that say our minds automatically correct mistakes (I rather read them than hear them in a conversation).
Posted by: Jeremy Pepper at January 7, 2007 03:31 PM
Please say sorry for picking on Andy so I can stop feeling bad about laughing.
Posted by: Dominic Jones at January 7, 2007 04:01 PM
jeepers, Nick! I'd have expected you to just pass something like this by...really. Even though the whole breakdown of "instant" got me giggling, I just can't see what all the traction is on Andy Ambramson's really rather goofy piece. Is it really all that important what a CEO p/r guy is saying about journalism? Is it just that he's got a big expense account or something? I just don't know, Nick...(shakes head wondering...)
Posted by: tish grier at January 7, 2007 04:10 PM
I don't expect everyone who blogs to write with perfect grammar and spelling. This would mean I would have to stop blogging. But I think if one wants to be called a journalist the basic requirement is surely to write a coherent sentence.
A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and proceeds to fire it at the other patrons.
“Why?” asks the confused, surviving waiter amidst the carnage, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.
“Well, I'm a panda,” he says at the door. “Look it up.”
The waiter turns to the relevant entry in the manual and, sure enough, finds an explanation. “Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”
From the back cover of Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss
Posted by: Thomas Otter at January 7, 2007 05:56 PM
When my son IMs and emails me, it's usually in txt msg language, a form of strangulated English I had to learn in order to make sense of what he says.
It turns out to be a form of shorthand where grammar and spelling don't count. He's cottoned onto something experts already know: you only need to get about one in three words to make sense of a sentence. What's more, it's possible to misspell many words and still be understood. Provided the first and last letters of a word are in their correct place.
It may not be pretty but it works.
Posted by: dahowlett at January 7, 2007 06:10 PM
New Journalism - or Jouralism - depends on how you want to define "Journalism". If you're talking about information that is gathered, assessed, involves the opinions of other people within the industry, and is edited to make it reads well, then that's arguably journalism. Is information that is reported as soon as it happens actually journalism or simply the act of being able to type fast? Then again, when Reuters or Bloomberg punch out a breaking new story in a few minutes is that journalism? New rules and lots of questions, I think.
Posted by: Mark Evans at January 7, 2007 07:23 PM
Unlike Matthew and the others, I think this was a very funny piece, and well worth the snark because the target fully deserved it. But then again, I'm a stickler for spelling and punctuation myself. As they say in txtland: gg.
Posted by: Paul Montgomery at January 7, 2007 07:24 PM
I, for one, don't mind the snark at all. Nothing like a good, ripe fisking on a Sunday afternoon.
There have been some other comments here suggesting that your fisk job misses the point of Andy's original post. Harrumph.
While Andy's piece may indeed be making a good and interesting point, it's still well worth you drawing attention to the fact that even the best ideas can fail to deliver on their promise if they're poorly communicated. That's the main point, to me.
Goes back to Debating Club in school - sometimes it's not the validity of the argument that wins, so much as one's ability to convey it with conviction, passion, and power (or, in this case, I'd settle for even a modicum of coherence).
It reminded me of Peter O'Toole's lovely little moment in Bertolucci's "The Last Empreror":
"If you cannot say what you mean, Your Majesty, you will never mean what you say; and a gentleman should always mean what he says."
I'd also echo Mark Evan's point, above, in which he appears to be channelling Capote ("That's not writing; that's typing"). I had some related thoughts on this a day or so ago (if you'll forgive the moment of linkwhoring).
Posted by: Michael O'Connor Clarke at January 7, 2007 11:19 PM
That was an awesome post. Sane bloggers are so few and far in between and that confirms that good things are rarely instant (effortless).
Posted by: Sergey Schetinin at January 7, 2007 11:25 PM
The point about this piece, surely, was that it's a huge puff-piece for Instant Juoralism(TM). As such it's crying out to be judged by the standards of other forms of journalism - a test which it fails appallingly badly.
You see, for the companies that can tell their story, show their wares and don't manufacturer hype, but have something to say, and most importantly, are willing to give time to the new "Instant Journalists" will be the ones who get seen, receive the coverage and garner acclaim, for it will be the Instant Journalists who tell that story for them like never before, in a time frame that has now become the standard, not the exception---Instantly..
This is the closing sentence of the corrected version of Andy Abramson's post, and it's still got five serious problems. It's ungrammatical - that 'for' three words in should be deleted. The verb is 'manufacture', not 'manufacturer'. It's customary to end sentences with one period, not two. The sentence is far too long, and it's badly punctuated throughout - that triple hyphen (triple?) comes as a blessed relief after all those commas.
I mean, lets get seriuos, speaking for myself, I check bolg comments, more carefulyl than that, before I hot 'post'. And my comments aren't advertisements for the New Blog Commentism.
Posted by: Phil at January 8, 2007 08:26 AM
How did we live without the instant news from CES?
See my small cartoon.
Posted by: Oliver Widder at January 8, 2007 05:32 PM
There's a certain predictable ironic flavour to the fact that my own comment above (I now note) contains no less than three typos, and perhaps other errors besides. *sigh*
Proof once again that I am indeed a great pompous nit with nothing better to do than ineptly juggle sizeable stones inside my big fat glass house.
Public apologies to Mark Evans for buggering up his name.
Posted by: Michael O'Connor Clarke at January 8, 2007 07:58 PM
I would say Abramson is a considerable improvement over Hunter S. Thompson. In fact, 10,000 monkeys on 10,000 typewriters is an improvement over Hunter S. Thompson.
Posted by: Fazal Majid at January 11, 2007 12:11 PM
Let's be honest. Andy's sole purpose for blogging is to promote the companies that pay him for PR support and to be a mouthpiece for select purple croc-wearing trade show organizers. If this is the future of journalism we should weep for our future.
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