Filak-ism: “Don’t use a hammer to change a light bulb”


Filak-ism: A random observation, borrowed idea from a movie/song/TV show/book, odd concept or weird phrase that has been warped in the mind of Dr. Vince Filak for broader application within journalism situations.

I always tell students in my class the simplest rule in journalism is this: Right tool for the right job. Or put another way, “A hammer is a fine tool, but I wouldn’t use it to change a light bulb.”

Tim Stephens, of SportsManias, shared this Newsweek article about the “pivot” many news organizations are making to video. MTV News and others are chasing demographics (and advertising money) with the idea of adding video to everything to better monetize content. The article cites several key statistics as to why this makes sense as well as why it will never really work out well for these outlets:

The forecast is grim. “Pivoting to video” won’t solve long-term media business woes in 2017, just as Facebook Live didn’t solve them in 2016 and quizzes didn’t solve them in 2014 and curiosity-gap headlines didn’t solve them in 2013 and listicles didn’t solve them in 2012 and blogs or whatever didn’t solve them in 2007. Eventually, algorithms change and ad models collapse and executives panic and money flows apace into Facebook and YouTube and other distribution channels. Flashy, short-sighted solutions don’t really solve existential crises. Or, as Mother Jones editor-in-chief Clara Jeffery‏ phrased it on Twitter: “Pivots, more often than not, aren’t led by real audience strategy. It’s chasing an ad demo, or dream of a demo, like a cat chases a laser.”

Reporters and editors can smirk at this cash grab, but we aren’t immune to the idea of using new technology or trendy toys just because we can. If you want a great example of this, watch this old Daily Show clip of Jon Stewart take down CNN’s coverage of a missing airliner. Journalists flock to a form of technology because it’s new or different and it seems like they’re “ahead of the curve.” However, live-tweeting a planning and zoning meeting or doing an interactive graphic of how to buy a dog license just because you can makes no sense.

Conversely, some journalists retreat to a platform of comfort, using it regardless of its applicability to the situation. A veteran print reporter can find a way to make every story a text-based story while a veteran broadcaster can turn anything into a video story. However, just because you can, it doesn’t follow that you should.

In the book, we argue that things like text, images, graphics, video and audio are simply tools you can use to tell stories. You should learn enough of each of them to understand their strengths and weaknesses and use them accordingly. This will better serve your audience and will improve your overall storytelling.

It will also keep you from breaking an awful lot of light bulbs.


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