The “social journalism” that made Oprah Winfrey an international fairy godmother is the new rage in network and cable news, and it’s expanding to other media.
Increasingly, journalists and talk-show hosts want to “own” a niche issue or problem, find ways to solve it and be associated with making this world a better place, as Winfrey has done with obesity, literacy and, most recently, education by founding a girls school in South Africa.
Experts say the competitive landscape, the need to be different and to keep eyeballs returning, is driving this trend, along with a genuine desire from some anchors and reporters to do good…
In a journalistic sense, Woodruff and the Post “own” these stories, which cut through a crowded media marketplace because “people are hungry to be surprised by the content,” says Samir Husni, a University of Mississippi journalism professor. “The key is to get people addicted to your content. If you can’t surprise them, you can’t get them addicted.”
Lots of examples at the link beginning with Bob Woodruff’s series on brain injuries caused by roadside bombs in Iraq and ending with Keith Olbermann’s special comments — a well-nigh perfect microcosm of how this trend is going to “progress” over time. Surprising that they didn’t mention Anderson Cooper’s and Shepard Smith’s reports during Katrina, though. Their theatrical displays of righteous emotion are the ne plus ultra of this phenomenon, the first goal of which is to put the reporter front and center as an exemplar of indignant virtue. Call it the Geraldo-fication of TV journalism.
We can’t complain too much. We’ve always said we wanted them to admit their biases, and now they’re doing it; it’s just that they’re claiming to be biased towards “good” instead of left or right. And hey: every reporter off busying himself with exposing the evils of trans fats is one less available to expose the SWIFT program. Small favors, etc.
Update: “The new advocacy journalists: Directed, Pure, and Unafraid, according to themselves.”