Washington Post: Go Gawker Yourself

Amid the furor over Ira Shapira’s Aug. 2 Washington Post column bemoaning how Gawker excerpted his July 9 article, thus spelling the “death of journalism” — here’s a constructive albeit unconventional idea from Doug Fisher’s Common Sense Journalism blog.

Fisher wrote:

“The fact that close to 10,000 people viewed [Gawker’s summary of Shapira’s article] instead of reading [the original] 1,500-word tome [on WashingtonPost.com] ought to raise the question of why the WaPo doesn’t have its own Gawker-type site excerpting its material. Maybe consumers are telling us something — namely that a lot of them don’t want to read a river of text on something like Shapira’s story on a millennial generation consultant because they have other things to do with their lives. Gawker et al. wouldn’t survive if they didn’t meet a need.”

I think Fisher makes a good point. While many journos are profoundly attached to long-form stories delivered in a traditionally detached, serious tone, that just doesn’t work well for how more and more people actually consume media and news.

This may not be the kind of world that professional journalists would prefer, but it’s the one we have.

So why not offer both approaches on a news site?…

Rather than wait for (or actively solicit) popular venues such as Gawker or The Daily Show to imbue labor-intensive in-depth reporting with mass appeal, news organizations could instead present their own briefer, more lighthearted takes on longer stories — and increase the chances of driving traffic and engagement to the original stories.

In his Aug. 3 response to Shapira’s lament, Gawker’s Gabriel Snider bluntly explained why offering more effective news teasers and summaries is necessary:

“Shapira is right. Blogs are killing newspapers. But it’s not by mindlessly cutting and pasting from newspaper web sites. Gawker would go out of business if that’s all we did. The bigger threat is that blogs say the things that hidebound newspaper editors are too afraid to let their reporters write.

“Rereading Shapira’s nearly 1,600-word piece (Hamilton’s post runs just over 400), the closest I can come to anything resembling a point of view is a tangled mass of clauses that takes Loehr and her consultant pablum at face value…”

The bottom line is that long-form journalism doesn’t really stand well on it’s own anymore. There is too much competition for attention. People need a good lead-in that is both rewarding on its own terms and demonstrates why the long version is worth reading. Wringing your hands over what kind of news you think people should want won’t change that.

Fortunately, not always taking your news so very seriously does not inherently devalue or undermine a news organization’s work or mission. Done well, it’s just a different kind of packaging.

(NOTE: This is an expanded version of an article I originally published in Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits on Aug. 6. Thanks to Simons Owens for highlighting Gawker’s claim that WaPo publicists routinely attempt to attract Gawker’s attention.)

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