A lot has said about the ‘demise’ of journalism. That the watchdog role cannot exist in a short-attention-span world. That Flash graphics and multimedia can muddy the telling a good story. In short, that readers cannot be a part of the storytelling experience.
That is simply hogwash.
Case in point, this week the Washington Post unveiled its two-year investigation of the U.S. intelligence industry, entitled “Top Secret America.” Online, it is a brilliant example of how watchdog journalism can become a reader experience. In addition to the words (which there are plenty), the reader can explore a deep database through various portals. Readers in California, for example, can look at a map to find companies and agencies in their locale that are a part of the burgeoning industry, and gain stats from the local end. They can slice and dice the data compiled through the investigation process to get information that is pertinent to them. For the time or attention-strrved, there’s even a “Cliff Notes” intro video that introduces them to the series.
In short, this is watchdog journalism that allows the reader to be his own watchdog as well — a true user experience.
(An aside…The Post started the series on Monday, instead of Sunday. The paper’s reasoning was to coordinate the series with their online reader traffic, which is down on the weekends. That is a sign that the newspaper recognizes its readership is not exclusively tied to its print product. Does your newspaper recognize that?)
Granted, the average newspaper does not have the resources to come up with such a massive experience. But the Post’s series is a great example of how today’s journalist has so many more tools to work with when telling the story. In addition to words, journalists have video, audio, interactive graphics and databases to work with. Reporters and editors need to realize words are not the only way to tell stories, and in some cases, may not be the best way to tell the story. Good journalism relies on deciding what tools best tell the story, and not crutching one up with another.
Readers in today’s world should experience great journalism, not just read it.