Today, newspapers are half as thick as they were only 20 years ago. Advertisers are leaving and many newspapers in the United States are barely keeping afloat. The New Yorker’s Eric Alterman said it best: “Newspapers are dying. The evidence of diminishment in economic vitality, editorial quality, depth, personnel and the overall number of papers is everywhere.”
In an attempt to reach new readers, editors are redirecting some of their energy into maintaining Web sites with multimedia. Take for instance, the philly.com’s popular video series Down the Shore. At first glance, it seems like a great piece of service journalism. The show highlights the best restaurants, shops and attractions to visit on the beach. Seems like an innovative way to attract viewers, right?
Until you click on the video, that is. Each short piece focuses on the escapades of Lilliana, Sandy, Julie and two others as they travel to Cape May, Atlantic City and Ventnor City. I expected to see a quick, informative segment on New Jersey beaches. Unfortunately, the 17-part series is best known for its provocative display of women in bikinis. The five hosts speak about the Jersey shore like they’re on a commercial sponsored by the tourism department. Instead of focusing on popular destinations, the video highlights full-body shots of the hosts.
The series is, in a word, sensational. When historical newspapers like the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Daily News makes the leap to glorified television, it’s time to hold editors at philly.com accountable.
Today’s media have already reached epic proportions in advertising sex. At what point do we, as journalists, draw the line? Quality journalism isn’t about sensationalism. Sure, it might generate plenty of Web hits, but can’t you find a more respectable way to make money?
In the future, our generation will be remembered for our insatiable need for sensationalism. The more shocking or attention-grabbing something is the fact that we can’t get enough of it.
A good example of video journalism can be found on cnn.com, which generates 2.3 million hits per week while keeping traditional values and ethics in place. Covering topics like depression, voter-age gap and man-on-the-street interviews, CNN has found a way to grab the attention of viewers while keeping advertisers interested.
It’s no wonder that the Online News Association recognized cnn.com for general excellence in maximizing the Web’s resources. To earn this award, journalists are “providing material that provokes readers in a thoughtful manner, while adhering to the highest journalistic standards.”
Hear that, philly.com? The same quality of reporting should be in every story, whether it’s a video, news report or special feature. And yes, it’s still possible to keep the public’s interest without being overtly sexual. Viewers deserve more than a watered-down version of Down the Shore. They deserve a high-quality report about where to go on the beach. Is that too much to ask?
Stacy Lipson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.