Well, it’s that time of year again: the end of the semester, and with it comes the end of JO 304 and its NewsTrack Blog assignment. Over the last four months, I’ve tracked the multimedia elements presented on Al Jazeera America’s website, and, to be honest, the lessons I’ve learned have only worked to further dampen my regard for the current state of American journalism. Despite its enormous potential to transform the online news world, multimedia seems to be doing nothing more than adding to the “entertainment over information” trend overtaking modern media. I’m beginning to believe that I will soon be part of a minority few, those who actually want news from their online news sites.
Perhaps I’m just being overly pessimistic, but the more I explored news multimedia through this blog, the more the Internet demonstrated that the ability of a piece to entertain usually far overshadows its ability to inform. In mathematical terms: cat videos > well-produced news features, at least according to view counts and what goes viral nowadays.
So, to wrap up my NewsTrack blog, I won’t muse about my love/hate relationship with Al Jazeera America (the rest of the blog does that quite well). Instead, I’ll focus on the top three things I’ve learned along this multimedia journey:
1. Multimedia isn’t optional in the world of online journalism.
Multimedia no longer complements online news stories; it’s simply become part of the way journalism runs on the web. Having multimedia no longer sets one news site apart from others; instead, the only way multimedia distinguishes a certain website is by its lack of it, and trust me, that distinction is not one you want to have in the age of the Internet.
2. Multimedia doesn’t have to be good to be effective. In fact, sometimes the worse quality it is, the better.
Grainy cell phone videos and reader-submitted photos usually trump the most sophisticated pieces of multimedia. Compare Don’t Tase Me, Bro to the New York Times’ Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek. One took 2 minutes and 23 seconds to record, the other I couldn’t guess the amount of time and effort poured into it. Which one reached more viewers? Noting the over 7 million views Don’t Tase Me, Bro has received, I don’t think even a Pulitzer Prize could give Snow Fall the boost it needed to compare. Plus, Don’t Tase Me, Bro has long been inducted into the Internet Hall of Memes.
3. Multimedia fuels views, not facts.
Just a reiteration of what I’ve said time and again – most multimedia today seems created only to attract more viewers, not to inform those viewers more effectively. Online journalism has become a popularity contest, and while competition has always fueled the media, it used to push journalists to improve; now, it only gives them the incentive to dumb things down.
Despite my disappointment at the state of online journalism (and I’ve got Hillary Clinton to back me up here), I still believe that multimedia can provide society with an elevated news experience. Will it actually happen? I sure hope so, but unfortunately, only time will tell.
Farewell, NewsTrack Blog. It’s been real.