Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Going back to Annabel Crabb's post 'Finding a coin for the journalistic juke box', published two Fridays ago, I wanted to comment on this one comment in particular. Lots of the extant comments were of the "we're not going to pay" type, with a few saying that "money is not the only reward". In the first case we just don't know how consumers will treat media, if all media do the same thing (if a few go behind a paywall they will of course lose readers). In the second case, with respect, it's a crock, because it's really about respect.

But the comment that stuck in my mind was Gregory's, in which he said that he will never pay for "content" that he "look up easily" himself. He goes on to describe in a bit more detail what he thinks is involved in journalism:
I will pay for someone else to troll through the evergrowing pile of data and pick out the good stuff, then catogorize it and put it into a searchable index form.
And I just sigh inwardly.

What is involved in writing a story? Do you just search Google and collect a bunch of material already in the public domain (with or without rewriting to avoid abusing someone else's copyright)?

No, not a bit of it.

Here's an example. In late March I drove for two hours south of where I live in my car to meet a government employee at his place of work. We talked for two hours on the record (that is, with a digital recording device running to capture what was said). I drove back home (picking up lunch at McDonalds on the way) and loaded the recordings to my computer. I then transcribed the whole of the recordings to text, manually (there's no other way to do this).

Then I sat on the story for a while, thinking about treatment. What direction should the story take? Should I get opposing views?

I contacted a private company eventually that is involved in the same product development as I spoke to the government guy about. Over two weeks or more we swapped emails and even spoke on the phone a couple of times trying to line up an interview with their spokesperson. I expect to talk to them tomorrow.

Meanwhile, on the story development side, there were other phone calls with potential interview subjects during the two months that have passed since I did the original interview. Lots of internet searches. A few more phone calls. A Twitter convo that turned out to be a dead end. A Twitter convo that raised a quote. More emails, more phone calls, more dead ends. A possible promise of an interview.

Then another interview was conducted on the record. A win, at last, two weeks ago. (But with a caveat: the interview subject wants me to run the clips I use from the conversation by him for an OK before publication.) Now I'm sitting here wondering if I need another point of view to balance out the scale of judgement. (Balance is, we're told at journalism school, a virtue.)

So, Gregory, we have here hours of real work over a period of two months in order to generate content that is completely original and unprecedented (as far as I know), and that will never be published on the internet (I guess, although this publisher occasionally puts up my stories online as well as in print). Go figure, Gregory. Go and try to find this information ANYWHERE and I will pay for your petrol for a year. Journalism is not about "aggregating" "content". At its best it's about doing the hard yards with intelligence and a sense of responsibility: to your readers, to your editor, to your interview subjects, to their organisations, to yourself.

And unlike opinion, it's not cheap.

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