#Muckedup chat Tuesday: reporting boundaries and defining realness

#Muckedup chat Tuesday: reporting boundaries and defining realness

What is real journalism? What is original reporting? These terms get thrown around a lot -- and yet, most of us truly don't have a defined answer beyond "I know it when I read it."

A recent piece in the Nieman Lab  by contributor Mark Coddington spent a lot of time dissecting this question, and early research led him to define real, original reporting as three main acts: "observation, documents, and interviews." Which I find to be a pretty accurate assessment. The only problem is, he notes, is other disciplines do this, too. So does that make other practitioners also journalists -- or are they just practicing the act of journalism -- or are we simply spending too much time navel gazing? When you start to really pick at all this, it starts to get confusing. And what about so-called tabloid publications, like say a TMZ, who may also engage in this "realness," but still pump out a version of news often described as fast and loose.

What then? Is that work any less original or real just because the subject matter is ... say ... paparazzi? Or should we point and wag our finger and say "no" just becaue they broke rules to break news?  

In his piece, Coddington calls this boundary differentiation a social construct, which in many ways it is. And insead of TMZ, he talks about Wikileaks, and why most journalists and mainstream publications rightfully wag their collective fingers at Julian Assange's pet project (citing lack of context, editing and expertise).

But whether it's TMZ or Wikileaks, or even "real" outlets like The New York Times or The Economist, all have to be accountable to the same set of unbreakable rules. 

  1. Give context to a story, sources and information 
  2. Use news judgment to carefully filter and edit information to give readers what they need to know
  3. Use experts well-versed in the field and subject matter to weave it all together.

Coddington balked at the notion that "observation, documents, and interviews" are enough of a definition to make up real reporting. But I think when you mix that detailed observation, sourced documents and first-person interviews into the aforementioned must-haves, you have an undeniable recipe for realness. Whether or not you like the publication practicing it is another animal all together, but you can't deny the "journalism scientific method" that went into it. 

So what do we do? So many pubs and professionals are going the way of the dinosaur -- how do we keep up, keep it real and still keep it in the black? The transformation of American journalism is unavoidable, and no matter how much they buck, the digital John Henrys are never going to win. But that doesn't mean we journalists should lay down our arms and go the way of aggregators. If anything, this almost artisanal practice of the craft is what sets the real apart from the phonies -- and I truly believe our peers, and readers notice -- when they read, that is. 

There's a lot to talk about here, way beyond a single blog post or one hour chat -- so please start the conversation, and join me on #muckedup this Tuesday, Oct. 1 at 8 EST to really sink our teeth into what makes reporting real, the challenges we face defining and practicing it, and the boundaries all around us. Hope to see you there. 





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