Content and journalism are not the same thing but they are often used interchangeably. As a journalist, you are creating content, but that doesn't necessarily make you a content creator. This distinction is not just a play on the stoic rules of journalism that want to alienate, demean, and then employ the tactics of people whose sole purpose it is to create viral and shareable content, instead, it is an important distinction to make because it allows us as journalists to understand what our role in this changing media ecosystem is.
This new media ecosystem is characterized by the influx of information at a rate never seen before, this information is coming from traditional journalists, citizen journalists, content creators, photographers and anyone with a smartphone and internet access. From the unimaginable amount of content that gets produced every day, what attracts the most clicks and views from consumers tends to be more pop culture than politics, leaving some of the information that can directly impact our lives on the cutting room floor.
Journalists and traditional media houses are now tasked with finding new ways to make sure these stories are read. This has lead to some of the most innovative ways of disseminating "eat your vegetable journalism" as it is now known. This shift has also led to a reliance on misleading or provocative headlines (click bait) or an overall change in the kind of content produced by journalists and media houses.
It's obvious that this crab in a barrel ecosystem has compromised the way journalists go about producing their content. Longform and investigative reporting has been sidelined for shorter videos and listicles, at the risk of sounding like a disgruntled apologizer for traditional journalism, this pivot is not an entirely good thing. Clicks and views are now used as the new metric for determining how good a story is, which means that more complex stories that can't be adapted to fit the algorithm for a viral video are bypassed.
"Don't compromise on the story, the impact is the story." Maryam Kazeem, Managing Editor of Ventures Africa.
Although journalists should be concerned with reach and impact, we should be challenging what it means to make a viral story. I've always believed that my job as a journalist is to write something that says, "Hey, you should be looking over here. This is important."Viral stories don't always have to be sexy, but they should be relevant.
The story and the community they have committed to serving should be a journalist's primary focus. Although it is important to move in the direction of everyone else, it also very important that journalists and the media industry maintain the basic pillars that built and have sustained the industry.