Straight and narrow serious vs. edgy fun

July 29, 2006

Most journalism teachers I know, present company included, teach a pretty straight and narrow serious approach to newswriting. And appropriately so.

There is a lot to learn in mastering the inverted pyramid, consistency of style, accuracy and objectivity. But to survive in tomorrow’s news world and to appeal to younger audiences, I think we have to start paying attention to the edgy presentation of news. Note the success of the Daily Report with Jon Stewart and how many young people consider that to be more appealing “journalism.” Shoot, when CBS was looking for a replacement for Dan Rather Stewart’s name kept cropping up in the speculation. And the White House Correspondents Dinner roasting of George Bush by Stephen Colbert keeps cropping up still months later on Editor & Publisher’s Most Popular Stories RSS feed.

And when I look at the work of one of my best designer students, Benedict Orbase, I realize that part of his appeal comes from a willingness to take an edgy look at serious news. It works. And I think as we look more and more at the role of online journalism we have to look at ways to separate ourselves from the vanilla world of online newspaper sites. Shoot, we probably need to do the same with the print edition.

I’m fast becoming a fan of zefrank’s “The Show” and Rocketboom, who like Stewart take a more fun, edgy look at news presentation (if you can call Frank’s work journalism, which I think you sometimes can; why he hasn’t been signed by the Daily Show yet is a mystery to me).

But news is serious and we need to maintain a balance. For the short run, at least, the student who leaves my program without understanding how and when to write the straight and narrow serious news story is going to have a hard time finding a traditional job in the media.

Sure would like to hear from some of my fellow journalism teachers on this one.

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