There are two inherent truths in the digital age of media.
1. Everyone has an opinion.
2. Everyone has the means to share that opinion.
That’s not always a good thing for journalists. Because often what we get, when it comes to article comments, emails, Facebook posts and tweets, is hastily-written, sometimes inflammatory notes and responses, the mere process of which mocks the thought and time that goes into producing the content in the first place.
Another reason it’s not always a good thing: The world is more specialized now than ever before.
Into card games? In the 21st Century, you can flop down on the couch and watch guys who make a living at poker play the game on TV. Or take on other card enthusiasts from around the world in real-time online events.
Is cooking your thing? No problem; there are 5.7 million different cooking shows on TV — reality shows, contest shows, instructional shows — and entire networks devoted to food, plus blogs, and websites, and forums all over the Internet.
It’s a great time to be alive, because literally almost anything you could possibly be interested in already has a venue — virtual or otherwise — tailored just to you.
Such specialization creates a different challenge for the modern-day journalist, however. Gone are the days when we can mindlessly dabble in a variety of different topics, switching gears easily and often to bring people different specialized content every other day.
Such things require an attention to detail and understanding like never before. Let me just say, for example, that you shouldn’t bother writing about the innerworkings of professional soccer unless you’re intimately familiar with the sport and its business side. Because there are people out there — a lot of them, it turns out — who pay attention to little else, and they’ll skewer you if you step a toe out of line.
At least that’s been my reality as I delve back into the world of freelance writing. It’s been, at times, discouraging, but it’s been eye-opening, as well.
Because I firmly believe that a modern journalist, particularly a writer in the digital age, simply can’t afford to be one-dimensional. There are too few publications — online and print — willing to pay decent money for us to cover specific beats and focus on specific topics in our coverage. We have to display a wide range of abilities, and we have to be able to do so while holding our own with even the hardest of the die-hards in any given realm.
And they’re out there. In droves.
I’ve spent a lot of time writing as a contributor to the Yahoo! Network, specifically in sports, travel and TV. My sports stuff, in particular, is regularly bashed, either because of something I wrote, or because of something I didn’t write, or because I’m not sufficiently amping up one reader’s team, or because I didn’t show due respect to another reader’s favorite sport, or, sometimes, for no reason that’s discernible to me whatsoever.
I could probably make a pretty compelling argument about the general intelligence level of the average Yahoo! Sports commenter — and about the impact of allowing user comments without any real accountability — but the experience has still been intriguing to me.
In sports, at least, fans’ passion about their favorite teams nowadays is exceeded only by the rapid-fire way in which they’ll defend those teams if you offend, or appear to, in any way.
Among the problems with Yahoo!, and with many other online freelance platforms, is that editing is a luxury not generally afforded to the writer. You’re mostly on your own, expected to be a professional researcher, interviewer, writer, headline writer, copy editor and content editor. It’s a process that used to involve at least two or three different people, all working together to produce good content. Now, in many online platforms, it’s a solo act.
Which brings me back to that whole specialization thing.
Because it occurs to me that in an age of intense specialization, when the average consumer has her every interest catered to like never before, successful journalists are expected to be experts in only one area: