The journalism of filling space and time (Jeff Jarvis, BuzzMachine, 4/11/08)

Election days are — next to the days after Thanksgiving and Christmas — the worst days of journalism on the calendar. They are “yeah, we know” days. People shop. People vote. Tell me something I don’t know. Please. This is the journalism of filling space and time. We have to print an edition or fill airtime and this is what’s happening today and you’re going to come to us anyway so we’re going to tell you about it even if we have nothing — nothing — new and informative to say.

The journalism of links, on the other hand, would dictate that it’s not worth using resources to tell people what they already know because no one will pass that on and passing on is the new distribution chain for news. (People won’t just come to you anyway anymore.)

I’m not suggesting that news judgment should be determined just by what is passed around. We know how silly the most-emailed lists are; they’re the wacky stories, water-cooler journalism. Instead, I’m suggesting that if you can’t imagine anyone linking to your coverage — if you can’t imagine anyone saying “this was new,” “this is good,” “this was valuable,” “go here for more,” “I didn’t know this,” or “you should know this” — then chances are, it’s not worth saying and in the link economy it won’t get audience, and so it’s not worth making.

In that link economy — in the Googleverse — you stand out above the level playing field by creating something uniquely useful, informative, compelling, or valuable. As other news organizations cut back, they will more and more point to good work done elsewhere. So another way to ask this question is, “have I contributed something to the press-sphere (and will I get attention as a result)?” For elsewhere in the sphere, others are doing what they do best and linking to the rest.

At the Telegraph, online editor Marcus Warren just told PaidContent: “We are doing what we do best, main content, but also linking to the rest, as Jeff Jarvis would put it.” Or as Marcus Huendgen just said in Der Westen, “Do the fucking links.” Yes, I’m gratified at the spread of that meme. It’s not just advice. It’s a recognition of the new architecture of news and media.

A few years ago, the Associated Press did a lot of research among young people as it prepared to create a news product for them. One meme they heard again and again: “Don’t tell us what we already know.” Don’t waste their time — and your dwindling resources.

So I come to you today over-informed about how many people are standing in a random line or about a random machine that broke down and got fixed — because that’s where the reporter was standing and she had nothing else to tell me. Don’t bother.

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