Photo: Daniel Goodman / Business Insider.com
We had a good laugh in the (virtual) newsroom this weekend when folks started passing around this letter-to-students from a journalism professor at the University of Tampa.The professor, who describes himself as a “college journalism scholar,” advised his students not to admire the success of our Deputy Editor Joe Weisenthal, who was named the best business journalist of 2011 and was recently profiled by the New York Times.
Why doesn’t the professor think his students should admire Joe Weisenthal?
As best I can tell from his letter, the professor thinks:
- Joe Weisenthal works too hard
- Joe Weisenthal goes to the bathroom too much
- Joe Weisenthal publishes too many posts each day
- Joe Weisenthal, in his role as real-time commentator, occasionally expresses opinions that turn out to be wrong [welcome to market commentary, professor!]
- Joe Weisenthal works for a publication whose only concern is informing and entertaining its digital readers, instead of writing magazine articles that college journalism scholars approve of
Instead of admiring Joe Weisenthal, the professor says, his students should admire Anthony Shadid, the amazing New York Times print journalist who recently died while on assignment in Syria.
And there, at least, the professor has some good advice for his students: Anthony Shadid was indeed amazing. If the professor’s students think the print version of the New York Times will be around long enough for them to become international print-journalism war correspondents for it–and they want to become international print-journalism war correspondents for the print version of the New York Times–they should absolutely learn from Anthony Shadid. He was one of the best.
If the professor’s students want to work in a newer medium, however, one that is gradually becoming the primary medium that the world’s people gather their news and information from, the students would do well to have more respect for Joe Weisenthal’s skill than their professor does.
Because in this new medium, Joe Weisenthal is also one of the best.
A few points on this:
- Yes, it’s true: There’s nothing that fuels success like hard work, passion, talent, and a will to win. The professor seems appalled that Joe Weisenthal loves to work so much. Perhaps that’s because, in the past couple of decades of print journalism, life had been so good that print journalists got used to not having to work much. Perhaps that’s because, for the professor, work is “work” (unpleasant toiling). Or perhaps that’s because the professor has tenure. In any event, it’s true that Joe Weisenthal’s dedication, intensity, and passion for what he does are part of what makes him so popular with our readers. He cares passionately about whatever story he’s covering–so passionately that he wants to stay on top of it. Our readers love that.
- Storytelling in the digital medium is very different than storytelling in print or broadcast. In a world in which millions of sources of information are a click away, having a talented journalist monitor and filter and add smart context to that global information fire hose in real time is extremely valuable to readers. Basically, this medium is a hybrid of broadcast and print: That’s why Joe Weisenthal and other talented digital writers write fast and speak conversationally (TV news hosts do the same thing–they just do it on camera). If the professor worked in a profession in which news mattered, he might have more appreciation for that.
- The skills required to do what a great real-time digital journalist does are different than those required to do what a great magazine writer does. That’s not a knock against magazines–magazines are great. But it’s why most magazine writers fail miserably when they try to write for this medium: Because they’re good at writing magazine articles, not at telling stories using the full capabilities of the digital medium, including covering unfolding stories in real-time, using text, pictures, video, and commentary.
- Doing what Joe Weisenthal does is extraordinarily difficult. That’s why there are so few Joe Weisenthals. I’m just guessing here, but I’d bet that if we put the good professor in Joe Weisenthal’s chair, he would fail miserably. Why? Because he would try to write magazine articles, which most online readers get enough of in magazines.
Basically, like a lot of critics about digital journalism, the professor seems to regard the “Long Magazine Article” as the highest and best form of journalism, to which all budding journalists should aspire.
And that’s fine. Great long magazine articles are great, and hopefully some people will keep writing them.
But holding the “Long Magazine Article” up as the highest and best form of journalism is to impugn other forms of journalism that require just as much talent and effort to produce and, in many cases, have far wider readership and far more promising future employment prospects than long magazine journalism.
- TV. One suspects the professor also does not admire TV reporters. This is also typical of many snobby print folks, who dismiss TV journalists as “talking heads.” Well, let’s at least acknowledge that those talking heads are viewed by vastly more people than print journalists–and are therefore much more influential. And let’s acknowledge that they make a lot more money than print journalists. Also, any print journalist who thinks it’s easy to be a compelling talking head should take a look at the awful “video news shows” produced by the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and other prestigious print news outlets. Making good TV is difficult. Print folks don’t know how to do it.
- Digital. Successful digital news outlets, ourselves included, are hiring and training as many talented digital journalists as we can. These folks all have a couple of key attributes:
- They come in open-minded, willing to experiment and learn the best ways to tell stories in this medium, not in other media.
- They’re multi-talented, combining the following skills: Writing, editing, news judgement, storytelling, photography, videography, intensity, creativity, passion, and speed.
It’s also important to note, because the professor didn’t, that Joe Weisenthal’s style of digital journalism is only one part of what has made Business Insider and other thriving digital news outlets so successful.
In our newsroom, which now numbers about 50 very talented people, we also have folks who are extremely skilled at disciplines that the professor might find more familiar and admirable, such as investigative journalism, photography, videography, technology and feature production. Our investigative pieces and features look different than similar stories in magazines, of course, because–again–this medium is different, but they’re longer than some of our real-time news posts. And the professor seems to admire length.
In hopes that the professor might want to share these, too, with his students, here are a few we would recommend to him:
- The Canada Oil Sands Mines Refused Us Access, So We Rented A Plane To See What They Were Up To
- Here’s The Inside Story Of What Happened With Facebook’s IPO
- THE DWARF-THROWING BILLIONAIRE WHO’S BUYING UP AMERICA: Tales Of The Mysterious Prince Alwaleed
The bottom line: We’re eager to hire as many talented digital journalists as we can (not TV or print journalists–digital journalists). The way we view it is that digital journalism is in the same place as TV journalism was in the 1940s and 1950s–loved by viewers, exciting and innovative for journalists, growing extraordinarily rapidly and therefore offering young journalists enormous opportunity, and sniffed at by The Establishment.
So, if any of the professors’ students have any of the attributes described above and are eager to work in the medium of the future instead of the media of the past, we’d love to hear from you.
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