Journalism and film: the similarities in changing industries

Dr. Mark Lashley of La Salle University knows a lot about movies. He watches them, he teaches about them, and he is a good person to find if you want to have a conversation about them. The same goes for news and journalism. He studied journalism and mass communication throughout his collegiate career, making him very well-informed on the state of the journalism industry. Dr. Lashley spends a lot of time thinking about these topics, and the topics of the journalism industry and the film industry collide more often than you think.

The journalism industry and the film industry are part of the same universe: communication. Communication is a broad topic that has many facets. The film industry represents the media side of the communication field; the journalism industry represents the news side. Both fields have undergone massive and dramatic changes recently.

The journalism industry has seemingly always been based on one thing: newspapers. Newspapers were the way news organizations spread the news and where news reporters would make their livelihoods. The dawn of the internet has upset this status quo.   

The internet has become a ubiquitous part of the daily life of everyone. This change has meant that in the past couple years, once sturdy pillars of the industry are wavering. The different types of journalism are shifting in popularity. Print journalism, by all accounts, is not as popular as it once was. The New York Times, Washington Post, and many other staples of print journalism have seen their readership dwindle in recent years due to the simple fact that people are not reading newspapers anymore. This has hurt business, caused qualified people to lose jobs, and led to consolidation. This consolidation means less unique perspective, as independent news outlets are being bought up and combined under a company like Comcast.

Selena Bemak, a senior at La Salle University and soon-to-be editor-in-chief of La Salle’s newspaper The Collegian, is aware of this problem. To her, it is not a matter of if print journalism will die, but when.

Another possible problem facing the journalism industry is millennials. The stereotype that millennials do not read news is pervasive, but not necessarily accurate. According to Comscore’s June, 2016 U.S. Multi-Platform study, the top 10 places millennials are reading news is online. Also, according to the American Press Institute, millennials engage highly with news topics on platforms like Twitter. All of this shows that print journalism is not appealing to the generation of today, which is a problem for its future.

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Chart of Comscore’s data (via Infogram)

The film industry is also different than before. The easiest parallel to the journalism industry’s problem with the newspaper is the film industry’s problem with the movie theater. Movie theaters are no longer the only option to watch movies, the same way newspapers are no longer the only way to read the news. Streaming services, like Netflix, have become mainstays in many homes. This has led to a decrease in the necessity to go out and spend money on a movie ticket. Some find it inconvenient, unaffordable, or just plain not worth it to go out and see a new film when they can just wait a couple months and stream it.

One possible cause of the fatigue some moviegoers are experiencing, and another change in the film industry, is the reliance on existing properties for new films. Superheroes, reboots, sequels, and other high-budget movies seem to be the only offerings available anymore. One look at the list of the highest grossing movies of all-time will show just how successful these types of films are, but some long for original ideas. Independent cinema is important, but filmmakers and theaters that support low budget fare are finding it harder to keep the dream alive.

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Independent theaters like the Bryn Mawr Film Institute do not show the types of movies that have become so successful recently

The changes that have been seen in both industries have shaped not only the field of each, but also each other. Sometimes unnoticed, but the journalism industry and the film industry interact and inform each other. This is a symptom of being apart of communication and the convergence that comes with that.

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Movie are assigned scores on Metacritic

Movie reviews are a simple example. Journalists review movies and say what they think about them. A good review could be the difference between a successful box office run and a flop, especially as word of mouth has become so powerful due to social media.

There are also other ways the two industries communicate. More times than not, major film studios and major news organizations are owned by the same corporation. Consolidation affects everyone. The industries are also facing a growing problem: frustration and distrust. People are more wary than ever of what they are reading and what they are watching. This lack of trust means that the industries are both at a crossroads: change with the times and figure out what people want, or continue to struggle. The journalism industry and the film industry are in similar boats, and it is interesting to see the parallels.

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How to get your MOJO

What does it take to be a journalist? Honestly, not that much anymore.

Mobile journalism, or mojo, is the hottest new form of story reporting. If you have a smartphone, you theoretically could be a mobile journalism. According to Ivo Burum of the Global Investigative Journalism Network, mojo is a set of skills that allow reporters to transform user-generated content into stories. Basically, the ability to take what is happening in the moment, capture it on the fly, and turn it into publishable content.

It takes more than just an iPhone to be a mobile journalist, though. If it was that easy, everyone would do it. If I happen to be at a crime scene and capture something newsworthy in my phone, that’s great. But being able to build a story around that content is key. The goal is to get enough people literate about mojo and for them to know what it takes to make compelling stories. The more people who utilize the tools necessary, the better possibilities for more stories.

Now that phones are more accessible, have better quality, and are being accepted by more journalists as legitimate tools, guidelines for mojo are coming out.

There are different types of mobile journalists, with more demanding skills needed based on the kind of mojo being asked of you. The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers lays it out for people. Generalists are the most basic kind of mojo reporter. They report all kinds of stories and use entry level equipment. Specialists are a step up from generalists. They focus on specific areas and dedicate more time to each story. VJs are the highest level. They have more equipment that is specialized for the type of reporting they are doing. The most is asked of them and they have the hardest reporting, but they also turn out the most impressive work. Figuring out what kind of mojo journalist you are is paramount to successful reporting.

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The pyramid of MOJO

Mojo also has a dedicated handbook for all those interested in improving their skills. Some of the skills highlighted in the handbook show that mojo reporters need to be practical and ready. Have your equipment charged, now what equipment you have and what equipment you require, and the SCRAP (story, characters, resolution, actuality, and production) of what you are producing. Overall, mojo is the future of the journalism industry. The ability to capture the world from handheld equipment like your phone is revolutionary, and knowing what to do to in the industry to keep up is more important than ever.

How to find your journalistic voice and figure out something to say

One of the hardest aspects of writing is finding a way to stand out. Many people can write a story, but it comes across as if they have nothing to say. Mastering the ability to write well and still be captivating is difficult. For a writer to succeed, they need to find their voice.

Now this may sound a tad nebulous. How does one actually determine their voice? It sounds challenging, but thanks to a webinar led by NewsU and Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Lane DeGregory, there are some tips to get started.

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Lane DeGregory

One main theme of DeGregory’s webinar was that all the techniques needed to find your voice are essentially the same techniques needed to become a good journalist. After all, if you are not a good writer, you will not succeed as a journalist and therefore never get your own voice.

Some skills DeGregory helped make the challenge of establishing your own voice seem less frightening. One skill she highlighted was the ability to be your own editor. An editor will help when they can, but being able to see what mistakes need to be corrected on your own is key. She also talked of being able to not only stand out, but be recognizable. She said think of he Beatles: even with songs that are widely different, you can still tell it’s them. Also important to finding your own voice is finding the voice of the publication you are writing for, especially if you are freelancing. You could turn in a great piece of work, but if it does not match the style of the publication, you will most likely have to change it. This does not mean lose your individuality, but learn to adapt your unique voice to the place you’re writing for.

DeGregory left us with a handful of tips to help “free” our voice so it can be utilized for future projects. DeGregory was able to learn what she taught us as she has spent many year honing her craft and writing stories that vary perspective and scope. She told us to find people’s writing we admire, always be ready, and to trust ourselves. DeGregory also warned us that failing is inevitable, but not to be afraid to fail. It’s all a part of the process to find your voice. DeGregory used a quote by Dolly Parton that encompasses the struggle to find your voice, “Figure out who you are, then do it on purpose.”

The Changing Landscape of Online Media

One of the defining characteristics of the Internet seemed to be its almost lawlessness. The early days of the web saw unprecedented freedom for its users. They could see everything and post everything. But as the Internet grew in size, some questioned how the Internet would change. With more content than ever before, new rules had to be put in place it seemed. But adding new rules would also be controversial. The question of how does the Internet and online media fit into the legal landscape is a question people are still having.

Dr. Kathy Olson of Lehigh University spoke to us about this issue. She talked to us about how the first time the rights of Internet users were really tested was in the Supreme Court case Reno v. ACLU (1997). The case dealt with the Communications Decency Act of 1996 and the restrictions it put on the types of content people could upload to the Internet. The case ultimately found the act unconstitutional, and marked a turning point in how the Internet was viewed in the eyes of the law. There have been many cases since Reno v. ACLU, and many have tried to figure out how to police the Internet.

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Dr. Kathy Olson

Dr. Olson highlighted three main areas of media law that need to be dealt with in terms of the Internet: libel, privacy, and copyright. Libel is already hard to define, and the Internet makes that even murkier. Can a tweet be libel? Also if you share a social media post that can be considered libel, are you guilty of libel as well?

Privacy is a hot-button issue. Facebook is in embroiled in a scandal that saw millions of user’s data be allegedly taken and used for political gain in the 2016 election. Many are concerned with how their sensitive information is handled online. If an article is written by a gossip blog that reveals sensitive information, is that an intrusion. Terms and conditions also may be hiding clauses that allow for the invasion of privacy. Any way it happens, the revealing of private information without the informed consent of the user is wrong, and the danger of this happening is increasing thanks to social media and the Internet as a whole.

Copyright and the issue of fair use is also of concern. Uploading a copyrighted video to YouTube and theoretically profit from it. For content creators, this is infuriating. Policing this while also defining what is fair use is tricky, and probably not close to being accomplished.

Dr. Olson brought up many good points and left us all with a lot to think about. She reminded us that while the Internet is a powerful tool that allows extreme creativity, it still needs to be held to a standard for how it effects the world.

My Favorite Theater

Movie theaters are still the main way people see new films, and popular chains like AMC and Regal have many locations around the country to satisfy the demand for new film entertainment. But there are also smaller, independent theaters that showcase less mainstream films. An example of that type of theater is my favorite theater, the Bryn Mawr Film Institute.

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The Bryn Mawr Film Institute is a nonprofit theater located in Bryn Mawr, PA. It was started back in 1926 as the Seville Theater, and was remodeled into the theater it is known as today in 2006. It is known for showing independent, foreign, and classic movies to its audiences. This means that it has cornered the market for anyone in the area interested in seeing movies that larger movie chains are not showing. It has four screens, so it definitely is smaller than your average theater chain. The Bryn Mawr Film Institute is also known for showcasing film courses to educate its audience. This is in line with the mission of the theater; to not only entertain audiences, but also make sure they learn something about film.

One of the main ways the Bryn Mawr Film Institute is able to stay in business is through the support of its members. Over 9,000 people are members of the Bryn Mawr Film Institute, which means like exclusive perks like discounted tickets and invitations to events. Becoming member means that the Bryn Mawr Film Institute can keep showcasing exciting cinema and is a good way to support art and local business at the same time.

I recently went to the Bryn Mawr Film Institute to see Wes Anderson’s new feature, Isle of Dogs. It’s a movie I’ve been excited to see for a while, and when I went to see it I was reminded of all the reasons I enjoy seeing movies at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute. It was the only theater near my house showing the film, as it had not been in wide release yet. I am a member at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute, so my ticket was discounted. The staff were friendly and the theater was clean. And the overall feeling of the establishment was very positive. It was overall another great experience (also because Isle of Dogs is so good). But I was not surprised by this, as the Bryn Mawr Film Institute has never disappointed.

An Adobe Spark version of this story:

https://spark.adobe.com/video/O7yHf3jQo1ooM

Does Independent Journalism Even Exist Anymore?

When the Internet was first popularized, one of the many benefits that seemed to come with it was the ability to make news more accessible and bring on a new generation of writers. But that bubble seems to have burst. Web journalism has consolidated greatly, and that means bad news for independent journalism.

What is independent journalism? It essentially is a news organization that is not owned by a larger company, like Verizon or AT&T. It usually found on the Internet, making it web journalism. There are many types of web journalism, as described by ThoughtCo. The most basic is a newspaper website, which is just a continuation of a print newspaper online. Think The New York Times or Washington Post. Independent news sites typically focus on more micro-level news, usually a specific area. And then there are blogs. Besides the one you are currently on, blogs are a main form of web journalism. Blogs like Mashable and Buzzfeed are huge and have many readers. And yet they are struggling.

And there lies the problem for independent journalism. MediaShift paints a good picture of the problem. Sites like Mashable and Buzzfeed and countless others are struggling to make it through the changing landscape of the journalism industry. Buzzfeed is making very little revenue, and Mashable was acquired recently. Being acquired seems to be the surest way to stay afloat in this day and age, but at what cost? It means truly independent journalism cannot succeed the way it once did.

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The Current Media Landscape

There are some pretty ramifications of this. The most obvious is the consolidation of smaller news sites into bigger brands. This means these sites can keep their doors open and continue to produce content, but it also means that they are not truly free anymore. Less sites and journalism in general also hurts up and coming writers. Why would someone be interested in becoming a journalist if they cannot get a job? Less writers means the future of news and journalism is less certain than it was before. The decline of independent journalism not only affects the now, but it also effects the future.

The Ethical Journalism Network paints a less positive picture of the situation, as they say a lack of uncorrupted journalism will have very serious effects on our society. One thing is for certain: independent journalism is becoming a thing of the past, which is almost a negative in every way.

The Power of Movie Reviews

Movie reviews are becoming a more popular and popular form of journalism. With he advent of social media and also easy accessibility for video, they are no longer only found in newspapers. Sites like Letterboxd allow for users to post their own reviews. YouTube has plenty of channels, such as Chris Stuckmann’s, dedicated to uploading film reviews. Podcasts, like Filmspotting, broadcast radio shows and upload them as podcasts so the whole world can hear their thoughts on a film.

With movie reviews becoming more widely available, what impact are they having. The more popular and mainstream something becomes, the bigger its impact will be. Websites like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic have made it easier than ever to see a plethora of professional opinions on film and synthesize them down into a number or opinion. A movie is “fresh” or “rotten”. It has a number score associated with it that is meant to represent its quality. This process of boiling down movies into numbers has effected how people watch movies and how they pick movies to see. Also, people can now go into a movie with an opinion already. They may have seen its Rotten Tomatoes score or read a review of the film. They could go into a movie almost predisposed to dislike it based off what they have read.

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List of films with assigned scores on Rotten Tomatoes

To get an idea of the effects of movie reviews on consumers, I interviewed three college students on the subject. I asked them all if they even read movie reviews. All three did, and mentioned different publishers. Rotten Tomatoes, AV Club, and YouTube video reviews were some that were mentioned. So movie reviews were prevalent in all of their movie watching habits. I then asked them how often they consumed reviews. Answers ranged from reading after watching a movie to see other opinions other than their own or before watching a movie.

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Example of a film’s rating on Rotten Tomatoes

Finally, I asked how movie reviews can affect a movie’s marketing. A bad review could very realistically hurt a box office run for a movie due to word of mouth opinions. The students I interviewed all agreed that reviews can affect how they feel about a film and how the film will perform, as they might not want to even see a film if they read a bad review.

Overall, movie reviews are an impactful form of journalism. They catch reader’s attention, but they can also have real world impacts on the movie industry. A bad review could be the difference between a box office smash and a box office disaster.

An audio version of this post can be heard here: