Posted by: mindyrappoport | 06/06/2011

Ready, aim, commence

(June 6, 2011 at 7:00 p.m. PST in response to A first assignment)

After reading the two journalism commencement speeches given by Rick Reilly and Nate Silver at CU Boulder and Columbia University, I wasn’t surprised to find that they had very similar viewpoints. Both journalists talked about the industry’s perpetual need for reporters and editors who can find, fact check and produce good stories and the importance of quality over quantity when publishing content, no matter what the medium.

This idea of the importance of quality over quantity in the present media landscape is actually something I was discussing just yesterday with my father, who is a former broadcast journalist. In his speech, Silver, whose blog is owned by the New York Times, said that unlike other media companies that don’t necessarily practice what they preach, the Times really focuses on the importance of quality over quantity when producing content. Like Reilly and Silver, I think that in a new media focused industry where different publications—and even bloggers—are competing to break stories, fact checking has fallen to the wayside as more and more content is published with fact errors. What would Woodward and Bernstein do if they were reporting on the Watergate scandal today? Would they take the time they needed to meticulously check with their sources that the information they dug up was indeed correct, or would they rush to the presses–and Twitter–in order to beat their competition? I agree with Reilly and Silver that now more than ever, journalists need to be careful fact checkers and publications need to master the art of producing quality stories before they can focus on increasing the number of stories they publish.

Reilly and Silver also told the graduates that today’s journalist needs to be able to synthesize information and make an argument that will catch the attention of the reader, who, as Silver put it, is “looking for analysis, meaning, context, argument.” However, while Silver said that he thinks that journalists can’t earn and hold on to readers by simply publishing the information they discover without making some sort of claim, a point that Reilly agrees with, the sports reporter told graduates that “real journalists” are ones that present the information they dig up in “a clear and accurate way.” If I could sit down with Reilly right now, I would ask him if he had to swap out the word “accurate” for “objective” or “balanced” in his speech, which word would he choose? If he meant objective, then his viewpoint on this issue differs from that of Silver.

Other than the possible difference in their view on whether a journalist needs to present a specific claim in order to grab the attention of readers, I couldn’t find any other points that Reilly and Silver disagreed on. Out of all of the tips that the two experienced journalists offered, I think that one thing I can do differently is to pay more attention to the amount of time I’m spending reading as well as the type of publication I’m reading. Although I have followed through on the goal I made at the beginning of last year to focus on reading many different newspapers, magazines, and blogs in my free time, there are always more newspapers, magazines and blogs out there waiting to be read. In addition to looking for more newspapers, magazines and blogs to read, I also want to start reading academic papers, just like Silver suggested in his commencement speech. I agree with the FiveThirtyEight blogger that the first step in the journalistic process is reading, and hopefully by focusing more on how long and what I’m reading, I can present fresh stories and increase my readership.

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