THE BLOG

Selfies Are Entertaining But They're Not Journalism

08/21/2014 09:17 EDT | Updated 10/21/2014 05:59 EDT

Much has been written about the demise of legacy media -- how no one reads newspapers any more, or watchers TV or listens to the radio. We are, it is said, a mobile tap away from all the personalized news feeds we could ever want.

Add to this the fact that we can be the authors of our own news through tweets, pins, vines, posts and online broadcast channels. In this grand sharing environment, is journalism a disposable commodity or a craft? Or both?

It was not always this way. News and its dissemination date back to earliest civilization where information was shared orally. In ancient Egypt, the ruling Pharaohs applied their own version of FedEx to courier news of war and government decrees to its far-flung empire. During the Chinese Tang Dynasty, government news was hand written on silk and read by government officials. Whether by stone, metal or parchment, the sharing of news helped those in authority convey what they perceived to be important information.

Then somehow we got to this -- Breaking News: How To Use Your Cat to Hack Your Neighbours Wi-Fi!

It's not hard to see how this happened. With remarkable technology available to us essentially free, it has become possible, easy even, to write and share our own ideas of what is important or of interest. Wi-Fi hacking with cats aside, this is fundamentally a good thing. It gives voice to differing opinion and helps communities connect. Numerous recent world events have been brought to us first via social media - the Osama Bin Laden raid, the Boston Marathon bombings and the Hudson River plane crash.

Does this make us all journalists and all information news? Probably not.

Good journalism is not so easy to create or to digest. It is critical, slower to produce, less in the moment, takes longer to consume and is harder to fit into our daily lives. It is uncomfortable, both physically and metaphorically.

Like any craft, journalism, requires audience attention, appreciation and consideration -- akin to a handmade ceramic mug that can sit alongside a disposable paper cup, news can be authored by a Pulitzer prize wining journalist or a passerby at an event with a cell phone. Both have value but their objectives differ.

As a PR professional, I believe that branded journalism, user generated content, vines and fan acquisition all have a place. I'm guessing however, that many would agree there is equally a place for authentic, thoughtful and articulate journalism. Whether or not this appears in so-called legacy media - TV, radio, print or online -- is frankly less important.

Amazon's Jeff Bezos is a smart guy. When he purchased the Washington Postfor $250 million in 2013, it was not an act of charity. He made clear his mission to provide the financial resources to allow the Post to focus on the customer. Bezos, long an advocate for the written word, understood that rather than destroying the news media, he could take one of the world's most iconic newspaper brands and create a hub for intelligent news coverage that is also financially viable. As he is first to admit, it's an experiment, but you have to give the man credit for trying.

I would argue that good journalism, just like a well-written book and inspired music is as vibrant as ever. We need to have less conversation about the news platform and technology, and place more emphasis on valuing quality content. Media hubs need to challenge their audiences by investing in professional reporting, or they risk a race to the bottom where disposable headlines have little context, become the sum of the story and have no more value than a photo of what our neighbour ate for dinner.

And let's remember, a selfie can be fun, it can be entertaining...but it's not journalism.

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