Journalism is changing.
Top CEOs and newspaper editors tremble at those words. But I disagree. The responsibility of journalism will never change; rather, it is its presentation that has already transformed. Social media has taken the forefront of Generation Y and reinvented the way people understand, communicate, and identify with the world. Journalism is no longer stagnant ink confined to front porches and breakfast news. It is an instant, capricious, democratic commodity in which anyone with a Twitter account can join. This accessibility, not social media, is what will cause journalism’s demise–not on the print vs. digital level, but in how we reflect the world we live in, which will diminish opportunity for change.
The race for views is on. With the ubiquitous “Like,” “Tweet,” and “Share” buttons, outlets are scrambling for click bait, sacrificing quality for shock. Because this cycle continues to spin, there must be some truth in that frivolous celebrity gossip garners views. But I’d like to think that if journalism began to focus on high-profile people discussing things other than their alleged love life, more views would flood in from both intellectuals and fans–and one can certainly be both.
Journalism has become a cut-and-paste cycle–not just in the digital sense, where self-made bloggers can simply publish a press release and call it their own, but also in the face-to-face interaction. Hours of research may be thrown out the window because of an outlet’s more-gossip-more-views motto. Too many questions are plagiarized in favor of spicier articles and catchier headlines.
Red carpets used to be synonymous with glamorous. Now, celebrities dread press tours, and in turn, so do world-weary reporters. Precious five minutes with a star at a premiere are wasted on “tell us about your character” and press conference questions are squandered on sexist commentary.
In 2011, I became a Scholastic Kid Reporter. As an 11-year-old foreigner to journalism equipped with nothing but a mic and notepad, I stepped onto a red carpet and into a camera frame for the first time. Without any familial connections to the journalism industry, it’s hard to imagine an Asian kid suddenly surrounded by professionals. Now as a freelance teen journalist for multiple online outlets, it is my passion to produce content that sparks witty banter, debate, and intellectual dialogue. In an interview, it’s as if someone unlocks the chasm of memories core to the interviewee and myself. It’s incredible how much perspective a five-minute conversation can offer, and it’s a humbling honor to share that with the world.
I spend hours on research. I’ve witnessed journalists ask the dreaded “talk about” or “tell us about,” which are not questions but statements imposing the journalist’s bias on the interviewee. Questions are asked with a “no duh” answer, showcasing a lack of research. The audience is left only with awkward interview gif sets–case in point, model and actress Cara Delevingne’s viral interview on Good Day Sacramento. She was asked shallow questions as per usual but unlike other stars, she “refused to play by the rules” and made a splash, according to Paper Towns author John Green.
The slack in entertainment journalism for something worth saying explains red carpet drudgery. A-list stars arrive to promote their movie, discuss their craft, and share opinions on important themes in their work–and the question they get asked is “What are you wearing?”
We have lost sight of journalism’s true meaning. Though many dismiss entertainment journalism as tabloid gossip, the purpose of journalism should ring true in all beats. The news–no matter what the subject–should be reported in a way that empowers the viewer and allows an engagement with the work. Journalism should paint a representative picture of different groups and redefine classes the way film reinvents genre archetypes. As journalists, we need to capture the world accurately and equip people with what they need to inspire change.
Entertainment journalism should be viewed no differently than profiles on politicians, activists, or entrepreneurs. After all, celebrities are those and much more. With their large following, they have the power to influence millions–and it’s our job as journalists to facilitate that global conversation.
The integrity and spirit of asking new questions will push journalism boundaries, unlike the way British journalist Krishnan Guru-Murthy indulged in compromise for views last year in an interview with Robert Downey Junior. Guru-Murthy became infamous for his interviews-turned-altercations, where he asked personal and unoriginal questions inappropriate for a movie-promoting press tour. When he asked director Quentin Tarantino about how film violence may relate to societal violence in a Django Unchained interview, Tarantino’s answer was spot-on, voicing the thoughts of many stars who have also endured repetitive questions for hours on end.
“The reason I don’t want to talk about it? Because I’ve said everything I have to say about it. If anyone cares what I have to say about it, they can Google me. They can look for 20 years of what I have to say. I haven’t changed my opinion one iota,” said Tarantino. “I invite you to explore some serious themes, but not things that I haven’t already been on the record for talking about… I just refuse to repeat myself over and over again because you want me to for you and your show. And your ratings.”
Guru-Murthy defended himself as asking “interesting questions” exploring “serious themes.” However, he was baiting the interviewee with hackneyed questions for a controversial answer in order to achieve higher ratings.
On the other hand, Jake Hamilton, host of Jake’s Takes on Fox and current Good Day Chicago reporter, understands how to walk the line between content quality and view quantity. He engages the stars with clear, well thought-out questions–the product of his love of movies and hours of research–and establishes a rapport with the interviewee rarely seen in the movie promotion world. His favorite interview moment was when his hero, Tom Hanks, said, “That’s a good question, man.” I can relate–hard work pays off when I hear the same response from my journalistic escapades.
Art strives to evoke emotion and encapsulate values close to our hearts. Artists endeavor to discover what makes us tick and what it means to be human. Press conferences, round tables, one-on-one interviews, and red carpets should be places where intellectuals–knowledgeable journalists and intelligent talent–convene to discuss involvement in a work of art and how it relates to the world.
Of course, the purpose of entertainment journalism is, by nature, to both entertain and inform. MTV News correspondent Josh Horowitz strikes this balance with his two shows: MTV’s After Hours, where he conducts funny interviews and skits with celebrities, and Happy Sad Confused, a podcast where he sits down with a star for an hour asking in-depth questions. Conversations about private life of course abound–after all, who is able to isolate himself from the life that has shaped him–but it isn’t of the nature of self-promoting gossip-seeking reporters asking invasive questions. Instead, Horowitz’s questions are well researched and open-ended.
It is the smallest things that can make a difference in journalism, a medium in dire need of a rebirth. Journalists need to set the quality of the industry as a responsibility to audiences, who deserve to know what sources are credible and provide food for thought. The accessibility of social media has allowed the rise of wannabe journalists hungering for views–they have become their own editors, deciding what is interesting or attention-grabbing enough to share in their circles of influence. However, I believe true journalism has a higher calling: to provide the public with what they need to make decisions about their life. It is taking information that may be already widely known and helping audiences make sense out of it.
Margaret Sullivan once wrote, “You are not in this business for the money, so what are you in it for? Do that work.” We shouldn’t be in it for the easy views, either. With quality taken up a notch, we might even be able to change the flow of the public’s tabloid-buying interests. The world deserves more, and it’s up to journalists to open up venues of change through thought.