I realized it the other day: I started the year by highlighting a sobering story for any storyteller.
I linked to a brilliant piece by Andrew Marantz called “The Virologist”, which profiled a web site/content creator who aims for clicks and money without any nod to ethics or storytelling. Sites like this — think Buzzfeed, but even more calculated — drive on the highway of journalism without getting into the lane of journalistic responsibility. Marantz gave an absolutely brutal assessment of the landscape of the Web.
The piece, to be sure, started the year on a low note.
So let’s take it back to a higher one.
Let’s use this space to talk about what excites us for the new year — and the future of journalism and storytelling.
Here are five things that give me hope:
1) The rise of long-form storytelling: I still don’t quite get how it happened.
Storytelling is supposed to be getting faster and shorter, with Tweets and Vines overtaking articles and videos. We are constantly told that a viewer’s attention span is increasingly miniscule.
And yet, long-form journalism has rarely been stronger.
Late last year, on a recent podcast, SB Nation long-form editor Glenn Stout tried to explain. The decline of magazine writing, he said, has led to a void in modern-day media consumption, with people looking for those in-depth stories they used to find in print. Long-form, he said, has migrated online, and publications have become increasingly inventive in how they present those articles.
The audience has apparently followed, which is great, because it has enabled some of the finest journalism and storytelling in the field — and has made those stories available to anyone with an Internet connection.
2) The rise of populist storytelling: The Internet is creating a more informative, diverse climate of journalism than we have ever seen … for those who choose to find it.
Just as the rise of camera-phones has enabled photography to become a universal skill — we all do it so regularly that more and more of us have become generally skilled at it — the rise of social media and the blogosphere has provided platforms for writers who would never have otherwise found one.
That has paved the way for voices to rise.
When a big story hits, it inspires reactions featuring numerous points of view. Anyone who pays attention can easily become knowledgeable on a subject and expand one’s mind.
3) Zach Lowe: OK, not all of these hope-fillers are of the same level of importance.
But I am only half-smirking when I say that Zach Lowe, NBA writer for Grantland, is someone who gets me extremely fired up for the future of journalism.
Lowe is a positive example of what can result from a more populist storytelling environment. Having so many platforms for journalism — and so many different resulting viewpoints — allows for more intelligent, bar-raising discussion among those who care enough about a subject.
And when talking about basketball, Lowe is on a different level. He possesses an extraordinary knowledge of the game, but he separates himself by utilizing just about every advantage of the online edifice: unlimited length, GIFs, social media presence, and various formats.
He is a role model for how to do it right — know your medium, know your subject, and create unique and stellar work.
4) The TV News Storytellers web site: On the broadcast side, we are all trying to figure out our medium — and where it’s headed.
But however local TV news reporters and photographers may fare in the future, they are armed now with a vital resource to boost their respective skills.
WTHR-TV chief photojournalists Matt Mrozinski started the TV News Storytellers group on Facebook as a way to provide a platform and educational tool for those in the industry. The group now holds more than 6,000 members, and the resulting web site contains an overflowing bag of tricks and tools for TV journalists young and old (as well as — full disclosure — a few articles from yours truly).
I visit the site and group regularly these days, and I almost always leave with a new bit of inspiration. Ten years ago, when I first entered the business, I craved a resource like this. Now I am thankful it exists … and heartened by the number of young journalists who use it to improve.
5) The symbiosis with social media: Sometimes I hear people gripe more about Facebook than their commutes or the weather.
And it astounds me.
I appreciate Facebook on many levels, even though I check it maybe once or twice a day, sometimes not at all. I especially give its overseers credit for one major change that has become a boon for storytelling:
The Trending box.
Essentially, Facebook has snuck actual news onto people’s Newsfeeds, which have in turn become far more populated with shared links from friends about major stories. It is one of several moves made recently by social media outlets to encourage individuals to think more universally.
That opens the door in a big way for journalists and storytellers.
It enables news to hit the forefront of people’s minds, even if just a bit more. It allows for the more populist storytelling mentioned above while also encouraging under-the-radar stories to rise to the surface.
And, along with the other items on this list (and some others not mentioned), it keeps me thinking positively about the world of journalism.
What gives you hope? Leave a comment or shoot me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.