Innovation in 2017

“Play it again, Sam!” Two Nieman Lab predictions are prompting journos to retrace their steps

Written by Lisa Divissi


Right now the internet is awash with arguments predicated on a binary that, until I read Carrie Brown Smith’s Nieman Lab prediction, seemed immovable.

You’re probably already familiar with the ongoing discussions about how journalism is facing a crisis of objectivity. If not, this great piece by Lewis Wallace will fill you in.

In her prediction, Brown Smith makes an important clarification at the root of these discussions.

It’s this: perfect objectivity is not a quality journalists themselves must possess but a method they must employ.

This fundamental misunderstanding could be journalism’s version of “Play it again Sam”, the oft misquoted line from Casablanca. Only in this instance, it could save the fourth estate as we know it.


She never said “Play it again Sam”, that’s a lie Woody Allen made up!


Until I read this, I found it extremely hard to reconcile the contradictions that lay with both sides of the argument.

Neither side of the argument allows for a balance of professional accountability AND the development of instinct in practice, which is how I have come to conceive of the job.

Surely it is naive to think perfect neutrality exists (let alone be possessed by mere mortal reporters), yet it is irresponsible not to hone or supplement one’s instincts with context, fact checking measures and other methods of accountability.

To think this was written 20 years ago shows how useful it can be to re-trace our steps as professionals when faced with (seemingly!) new predicaments.


Some guy reading a paper from the good old days


How else can journalists repair trust with readers? Andy Rossback has predicted 2017 will be “the year of the user”, saying more will be done to enhance and empower users of online news platforms.

According to Rossback, joining the hunt for clicks to raise revenue (as opposed to paywalls and other subscriber models) has meant official news sites and their fake news counterparts have become indistinguishable.

He says both are littered with garish pop-ups, clickbait-type links, and distracting advertising banners.

It would be as if all official mail like electricity bills were made to look like pamphlets for lawn mowing services. Imagine paying your phone bill and accidentally ordering five pizzas? I guess that wouldn’t be so bad. But I digress.

We have seen in Australia the example of Fairfax news who have been criticised for incorporating click-bait type business strategies. Earlier this year, the company announced budget cuts to the tune of $30 million in an attempt to stay profitable. 

However the New York Times (incidentally Rossback’s place of work) have since garnered a reputation for sticking to what they have always done – straight down the line journalism, no clickbait articles – in addition to a paywall, and with relative success.

As a user I agree with Rossback. The clutter and fending off of the “play now” video, in addition to the pop ups make for a hectic user experience. Ease of navigation has always been something that is important to me when it comes to using technology.

Perhaps sticking to a tried and true method is the way forward after all?


About the author

Lisa Divissi