Blog Post for March 6th
James Bennet is the editor in chief and co-president of The Atlantic. In 2013, he wrote the introduction for The Best American Magazine Writing 2013, an anthology of stories from American magazines in the past year. His introduction focuses on long-from journalism. He critiques the name, the label, associated with this “new” form of journalism. He laments, at great length, the possibility that long-form is in danger of coming to mean, “A lot of words.” Bennet’s lamentation is authentic; he has long been a proponent and cultivator of long-form writing
Later in his introduction Bennet discusses the changing media climate and media technologies of the past 20 plus years. As we have discussed time and time again in class, Bennet, too, acknowledges the forces changing media. Market-based media decisions, media conglomeration, audience fragmentation, and new technologies have caused drastic changes in media over the past 25 plus years. These changes disrupted the landscape of media, creating a need for new types of stories and coverage of events. Chief among these need media needs was contextualized news.
For class this week, we read a report about evolving forms of journalism, Kevin Barnhurst’s “The Makers of Meaning: National Public Radio and the New Long Journalism.” Barnhurst’s study and report also laments long-form journalism, but in a radically different way than Bennet. Barnhurst first reports the historical trends of U.S. journalism – the shift from storytelling into rendering events factually, before moving subsequently to emphasize the interpretation of events. The author argues the change served to, “Enhance the prominence and authority of (print) journalists without necessarily adding depth to coverage.” I disagree with his point here. I believe that media consumers today often know the most salient details of a story before they read the story. There exists an information glut in modern media. Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook have revolutionized the manner in which news outlets convey news to individuals. Facts and the most important details are likely to go in a tweet or Facebook post, but often a hyperlink accompanies them to offer context and meaning to hard facts.
Journalism is predicated on the ethical principles of truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness and public accountability. Journalists are reminded of these principles daily, their importance instilled in members of the media repeatedly. In Barnhurst’s final analysis of the study on NPR and journalism trends at large, he notes that the emphasis on interpretation rather than on events tends to make the content of reports less dynamic. This is not the only mention of a lack of dynamism in interpretive journalism, but this stands in direct contrast to the comments of Bennet.
James Bennet’s introduction acknowledges the potential pitfalls of long-form, interpretive journalism. “Length here is not a virtue in itself.” He adds, “As journalism and its distribution through the Web evolve, the most meaningful distinction is turning out to be not short versus long but good versus bad.” Long-form journalism, like any good product, fulfills a need. As the media market evolved, and new technology made the consumption of facts and news easier, a need arose. Long-form fulfills the need of readers to learn, to understand (at least, good long-form does.) If this new (er) form of long and interpretive journalism is simply a place for long-winded and verbose writers to preach, it then becomes less dynamic and boring.
Local observance of the need for long-form, interpretive journalism can even be seen at UNC-Chapel Hill with the introduction of Synapse magazine to campus this school year.