Popular demand not best way to shape news, student journalist says

Sabrina Werby, Staff writer

On April 16, Tim Harrower, a well-known newspaper designer and author of “Inside Reporting,Urban’s current journalism textbook, was the keynote speaker at the National Scholastic Press Association’s high school journalism convention in Portland, Ore. His presentation was about “grabbing eyeballs,” or how to use creative design, catchy images and punchy stories to capture readers’ attention in an increasingly competitive media world.

One of the publications that Harrower used to illustrate his ideas was Maxim magazine, which according to its google headline covers “Hot Girls, Sexy Photos & Videos, Celebrities, Gaming, Hot 100 …”

As the picture of two half-naked female models stared down at me from the mega screen and the hormonal wolf whistles of hundreds of excited teenage boys echoed in my ears, I was visited by a disturbing premonition.

I imagined myself 10 years from now on the way to work carrying a morning New York Times, just as I have observed my dad do for years. But upon opening my paper, I find a pornographically posed woman with blurbs plastered all over her body about some future war. Back at his desk, the reporter who wrote this story says, “Ha! I bet I grabbed your eyeballs!”

Freedom of the press stands as one of the core principles of democracy. Journalism is known as the fourth branch of government. The news is the people’s connection to their politicians, fellow Americans, current events and so much more. And yet despite their vital role in the community, newspapers are going under right and left.

It is no news these days that the news is changing. What’s worse though is that how people read is changing. My father’s favorite paper, the New York Times, is struggling; readers get their news online now in small chunks. Why read an educational, well-written article about global warming when you can just Google it, read the first few lines and click on the Wikipedia page?

But the web is not necessarily easy to navigate. Many feel there is simply too much information there. Annakai Geshlider (’13) says, “I just get flooded and the actual writing doesn’t seem as important anymore.” Journalists feel like they have to solve this problem by stuffing everything they have to say into infographics instead of conventional articles.

Ironically, much of the pressure to shrink the news comes from the misperception that teens want it that way. Teenagers are the ones who need pictures in order to be interested, older journalists such as Harrower say.  Teenagers want video, they want pictures, they want facts, and they want it all right now.

Well, we did learn to read and we are not scared by the big, bad text. If anything, we are bored with everything being dumbed down for us. Truly, we are thirsty for information.

Journalists need to stop being bullied by what they think is popular demand. According to Ian Sicurella (’12), “if I am invested…I am going to read it even if the article is super-long.”

There is nothing wrong with long-form journalism. It just needs to find its own place in this new world of news. It is difficult to fit “Fatal Distraction,” Gene Weingarten’s Pulitzer prize-winning article “about parents, from varying walks of life, who accidentally kill their children by forgetting them in cars,” into a one-paragraph blurb. The question is, how much will journalism sacrifice in order to fill the demand for catchy?

As Harrower himself says in “Inside Reporting,” the role of a newspaper is to inform, educate and persuade, as well as to entertain. I happen to like my father’s New York Times. And I do not think I am alone. So go ahead and grab my eyeballs. But please remember to feed my brain.