What Journalists Can Learn From Reality Television

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Reality television consumes a massive amount of air time on our cable/satellite waves. It also festers in our conversations and entertainment stories that we read online.

It seems that we talk more about trashy events on television or celebrities lives rather than serious issues occurring across the globe.

What can we as journalists learn from the popularity of reality television and gossip magazines, while also remaining the austerity and ethics of our own practice?

1. Being simple and to the point

It’s not hard to get the point when watching a reality television show. Often the story goes: this boy cheats on a girl– she gets revenge on him– huge fight and then resolution.

When it comes to structure, news stories are not so different. We point out the issue in the lede, explain both sides of the story and the action that goes on in between, and end with either a resolution or what may occur in the future.

However, our audience wants brevity and meaning with each word. That means that each sentence should keep readers or viewers on their feet, curious about what is going to happen next. While we want to put in every detail that we personally find important and hate it when our editor’s cut content, it’s a necessary action.

Let’s not muck a story by unnecessary details and make each word count.

2. Connecting with the audience

While an appealing factor of reality television is watching people who lead a different life, another contributing factor to the addictive viewership is the connection a viewer has with an actor or conflict.

It’s easy for reality television shows to connect with viewers since they market towards a specific group and create content accordingly, but news writers can also connect with their audience.

A journalist covers a massive trial and listens to the hearings, and speaks with the lawyers and attorneys. That information is important, but delve deeper. What about the family of the defendant? How are they feeling? What about the parents and friends of the victim? Readers may connect more with a conversation with the family rather than a lecture from a lawyer.

3. Conveying your voice

The actors in reality television shows definitely have a distinct voice. I’m pretty sure most teenage girls could recognize Snooki’s voice without needing to see her face.

Obviously news writers don’t convey their voice in the same sense as they want to remain objective, there is no reason that your writing (or broadcasting) should not have a distinct edge to it.

Think of your favorite news broadcaster or news writer. There’s a reason they’re your favorite and a reason they stand out to you. Whether it’s by the way they form their sentences, or their exquisite attention to miniscule details, every journalist has a voice.

Editors have a more difficult time connecting with viewers than a director for a reality television show does. But while  maintaining our moral integrity, there are a few things that journalists can learn from these shows and appeal to more viewers.


Why Young People Like Yahoo! News (and not much else)

Everyday, when I look through my Facebook feed for perhaps the millionth time, there is a trend that I often see.

“Yahoo! News: 5 tips for look hot for Spring Break. Yahoo! News: Mother kills 5 children. Yahoo! News: Should Your Child Be Spanked at School?”

Compared to other news sources that are shared on Facebook like the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, Yahoo! holds a special place in teens hearts and also shows us where the world of journalism is going.

Convenience. Everyone loves something that is easily accessible with no hassle. Yahoo! has a convenient application, and once you read an article it is shared on Facebook allowing other people to easily click and access the piece. Because after all, he wants to bother reading a thick newspaper or typing in a webpage when it’s all on Facebook?

Another reason why it’s so popular among young people? In my opinion Yahoo! has an exponential amount of entertainment news. People (especially in the younger generation) are generally more interested in, “What You Should Wear This Spring,” rather than, “Another 20 People Died in Syria.” (*cough* unless it’s put into an over simplified fast-paced 30 minute video. *cough*) And if it’s not that, then we love to read the most dramatic thing like “Man Kidnaps 20 Children” or “Teacher and Student: Sex Scandal.” These kind of article are plentiful on Yahoo! and easily attract a lot of attention. After all, it is easier to feel sympathy for something happening close to us that we can understand, rather than an extended global affair that has complicated government and policy issues.

And of course, Yahoo! news is free. While newspapers that offer their articles online are having to resign to restricted page views (The New York Times is reducing its 20 articles to 10) or just flat out paid digital subscriptions, Yahoo! is free. Just a download of its Facebook application, a click here or there and you’re ready to go.

Free, easy and entertaining. These are popular themes in society today. We want something now, we want it with little hassle and you better not make us pay for it. It almost sounds like a fast-food restaurant or the convenient Wal-Mart down the block.

However. I’m not saying that Yahoo! News is bad. In fact, I applaud them for tapping into the social media web and discovering a cheap and efficient way of spreading their work. There is a lot to be said about what the average young person is interested in news wise, however.

If you are under the age of 24, can you remember what was the last news cast that you watched on the television? When was the last time you read an article from an established paper like The New York Times, Wall Street Journal or even the Des Moines Register? When was the last time you held an actual newspaper.

And really. Have you ever listened to NPR?