A response to Kevin Marsh: Different doesn’t mean worse

In Death of the Story Kevin Marsh writes simply and with a tone of cynicism, “The story is dead.”

Dead? Really?

After reading this, I wondered what it was that I had been studying for the past three and a half years in the William Allen White School of Journalism. Without “the story,” what am I to do with my knowledge of how to set up quotes or write a nut graf? More importantly, what now will I do with my editing skills? Sure, someone can correct grammar and usage mistakes on bad Web sites or other media of the sort, but what will I now do with my abilities to craft information in a way that an audience can understand it.

Fortunately, Marsh’s idea of the dead story is dead wrong.

His main argument lies within three main points he makes in the article. First, he concludes that journalists have stretched and distorted “the story” in ways that make it no longer helpful to an audience. He seems perturbed that journalists are no longer the only ones who can “spot stories.”

My question to Marsh regarding that statement: Why is this a bad thing? Yes, this does mean a more citizen-journalism-like approach to storytelling, but journalism should not be an exclusive entity.

Journalists might cringe at the phrase “citizen journalism,” but if used correctly and in the appropriate context, a deeper and better-rounded story can be told with more viewpoints. It’s easy to imagine how easily a story could write itself with accounts from as many people as possible. Of course, though, with that method comes the task of wading through relevant and factual information. Anyone can easily post information online about his or her personal experiences or thoughts on current events, etc., but a true journalist will be able to determine which of those posts are meaningful and relevant in the scheme of news.

In his article, Marsh even states that the story is “the journalistic creation that grew out of narrative accounts of the world.” And still he tries to say that “the story” is dead.

Well, what Marsh needs to realize is that it most definitely is not dead, but rather it is different. Telling “the story” is a mutual effort. Marsh only talks of journalism as a one-way line of communication — we the journalists tell the stories, and you, the audience, take it in. But without some consideration of an audience’s input, a story cannot be well written. Technology can allow news sources to gain more feedback through comments on Web sites, Twitter, YouTube or iReport. By injecting “the story” with more stories, the reading experience is not only personalized for each reader, but it is also enriched.

One of my favorite journalist blogs is 10,000words.net started by Mark S. Luckie. Luckie is an online/ multimedia journalist who understands and respects the changing face of journalism. Unlike Marsh, he embraces the change through using multimedia. He often posts tongue-in-cheek entries that poke fun at the mindset of those against the changing industry.

Perhaps the most relevant and sarcastic passage from one of his posts on using multimedia: “The hundreds of voices on a website can’t compare to the two quality experts in a print or broadcast story.” With what comes across as a sarcastic comment with Luckie, Marsh would say with sincerity.

Marsh’s second main argument deals with the mistrust generated from this lack of “the story.” The way in which Marsh structures his first and second arguments give his message a voice that screams, “This isn’t the way we used to write stories. What are all of you non-journalists doing giving input to what I’m writing? Let me do it. I’m the journalist here.”

I agree with Marsh that the term “journalism” has been used to describe things that it hasn’t before. But that’s OK. Though different or frightening to some, it is not a bad thing. It is merely a phase in the evolution of journalism.

The most bothersome aspect of Marsh’s argument on the new face of journalism is his problem with consumers being able to now get the news when they want and how they want: “The more I find out about how our former audiences are getting their news now that they don’t have to rely on us journalists, the more convinced I become that our invention, ‘the story,’ and all that goes with it is dead.”

I guess I missed the problem with that. Do others really think this is a problem?

By personalizing the way in which someone views information, it is better retained. Consider it: If someone can visit a site that allows him or her to input certain information that might be different for someone else, each person’s outcome would be unique. Because of that exclusiveness, a consumer is given more of a reason to remember whatever was just read.

Marsh does mention the Poynter Instititute Eye Track Studies, citing that in fact people do read less on Web sites. However, he fails to mention the other half of that notion. A news consumer must have something to latch onto to stay on that site, specifically a story — “the story.”

Every part of journalism, from the graphics to the break boxes to the maps to the Flash interactives to the actual pieces themselves tell a story, and that story sticks with and draws in a reader if properly done.

In the realm of journalists, I assume that Marsh falls in the end of the spectrum that includes older journalists. Marsh acknowledges the Web in some parts of his article, but never in a good light until the end when he suggests that we should all adjust to the changing times.

But with his attitude that journalists can only be the gatekeepers to information, Marsh distinguishes himself from the prevailing journalists. He begrudgingly admits that we journalists must deal with the dead story and move on to gathering information to put on some Web site.

Though I do agree that journalism is in an important transitional phase right now, I do not agree that the story is dead. I think that the message is one that is common to older journalists who are more set in their ways and have seen drastic changes in the profession.

Those changes have occurred. I’m not denying that. But why is it that whenever there is change at any level the worst is automatically assumed to have happened?

On 10,000words.net, Luckie has a section in which he collects others’ opinions on the death of journalism, some sarcastic and some accurate. It seems as though most negative views on journalism now come out of fear.

Journalism cannot be exclusive anymore. If the majority of people simply weighing in on an issue ever threatens the story, it is a journalist’s job to pull back the reins of integrity and objectivity.

But to simply deny the spread of journalism in whatever form it comes in is to kill ‘the story’ — the who, what, where, when, why accurate and skillful structure of language  — right then and there.

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2 responses to “A response to Kevin Marsh: Different doesn’t mean worse

  1. Well-said, Lauren. Keep up your thoughtful writing, my dear.

  2. Lauren, It’s does my teacher heart good to see writing that reflects thoughtful responses and provokes further thinking about a topic. Those are the type of skills that will keep the integrity of journalism strong. Well done!

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