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The sheer amount of information available today is a double-edged sword. Wonderful in theory, all proximal via digital media, and much of it free or low cost, the abundance of information is also a curse, as the 2016 U.S. presidential election put on such dramatic display. How are we to know whether Comet Ping Pong Pizza in Washington, DC, is or is not part of a global sex trafficking ring in cooperation with the very highest levels of the Democratic Party Most people need help, and that’s the job of digital journalists.

They sort, filter, curate, verify and refer. Thus, journalism students should be introduced to research and organization techniques; how to use a feed reader; how to stay on top of a specific trend via email alerts, Twitter, and search feeds; and how to develop source relationships via social media.

Digital writers and editors are learning that it helps to think about the bottom line, even though such thoughts are heretical for older generations of journalists more accustomed to “church and state” divisions of editorial and advertising sales. Good content attracts readers, and it is the reader who creates the page views, clicks, shares, and likes.

This attention attracts advertisers, who then pay to reach those readers. That revenue provides writers and editors with a paycheck. But the news business is suffering a prolonged period of creative destruction; lots of digital-first news operations are starting up, but few are achieving profitability. Since 2007, more than 120 newspapers and 30,000 new production jobs have been lost.

Perhaps most frustrating of all is that news aggregators as a category outperform the traditional news operations on whose content they depend (and some say steal from) to thrive. The generators of the content that nourish the rest of the food chain are getting their teeth kicked in, economically.

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What does any of this have to do with journalism In digital spaces and places, writers and editors are expected to interact. Audience interaction can yield better stories and more interesting content, but it also opens the door to arguments, mindless debates, and comments so inane, so egregious, that you might want to pull the plug on the whole enterprise, as many have done.

(When Popular Science shut off its comments sections, the site’s editors explained the decision by saying, “Comments can be bad for science.”) Moderators and social media managers have to swallow that first impulse, step back, and remind themselves of the benefits. They need to see opportunity amidst the arguments and the story ideas amidst the flame wars. They need to lead the discussion and prod it when it falters.


Because news is turning into more of a collaboration and much more of an interactive process, the reader has more of a say in determining or at least selecting the big issues of the day. Such a collaborative, distributive ecosystem is inherently more democratic, but that does not necessarily make the more open system better for democracy or for a democratic form of government, again, as the 2016 U.S.

Last word

The presidential election demonstrated. Fake news over-crowded verified reporting. With less powerful watchdogs, with financially poorer independent news organizations less able to fund the expensive enterprise of investigative journalism, the government is increasingly able to creep into the shadows.

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