By: Jeff Fleming
Is the frantic pace of change affecting our ability to master our professions? We earn our stripes in college, enter the working world, build a career with decades of experience, master a craft like Michelangelo, and then, wham! The hinges are blown off our careers by a ceaseless torrent of new technology. Constant transformation is preventing us from becoming proficient masters. We’re always starting over, and always learning and relearning. Skills and knowledge that used to endure for decades are now defunct in less than three years.
An unfortunate consequence of this onslaught of technology is the morphing of journalism from an art to a science. Technology is dictating how content is written, and influencing the quality and depth of research and investigative reporting.
Recently, The Online Journalism Review (ojr.org) published a story headlined, “10 Reasons Why Online Journalists Are Better Journalists (In Theory).” Point number six read, “We’re better writers — SEO will not allow us to write vague headlines or use bad puns, and the attention span of our audience is about three blinks, so we have to practice all of George Orwell’s 5 Rules for Effective Writing at once.” Algorithms, analytics, and technology are sucking the human element out of our lives, and forcing writers to redefine traditional journalism techniques. The New York Times’ 1969 headline, “MEN WALK ON MOON,” would appear today as, “United States Astronaut Neil Armstrong is first person to set foot upon the moon.” Better? No. Boring? Yes.
Another troubling sign of how technology is mutating journalism was revealed recently when Yale University asked its journalism students to write a one-page paper on how they thought Watergate would be covered in today’s world. Essentially, the students concluded that they would simply Google “Nixon’s secret fund” and the conspiracy would appear on screen. Good journalism is a human skill, requiring human intuition and human relationships — traditional door knocking and face-to-face reporting by Woodward and Bernstein are what led to Nixon’s resignation, not technology or the genius of a software engineer.
2012 marks E&P’s 128th anniversary, and we’re celebrating this milestone with a publication redesign. Thanks to the design skills of art director Robert Martin, along with insight and assistance from managing editor Kristina Ackermann and associate editor Nu Yang, this issue of E&P reflects a fresh new look. The cover format now allows for a full bleed and multi-color flexibility in the logo. The contents page is better organized, easier to read, and the data page has been expanded from a single page to a double truck with additional charts and bolder graphics. These are just three of the many changes you’ll find inside. While we haven’t radically altered our content or rearranged the placement of editorial, we hope that you’ll find the redesign cleaner, livelier, and more contemporary.