Peter Eichstaedt on Technology and International Journalism

Peter Eichstaedt Head ShotPeter Eichstaedt is a veteran journalist with a background in local newspapers. After working for the Uganda Radio Network and the Institute of War and Peace Reporting, he became deeply interested in giving voice to international humanitarian issues. Eichstaedt has seen the rise of the internet, laptops, and cell phones, and he has an insider’s perspective on how technology has impacted his work.

“Personally, I’m excited about this technology,” Eichstaedt began. “I started off, in the early days, writing on a typewriter – everything was done on paper. If anyone wanted to follow serious journalism, they read newspapers and magazines.” Now, of course, a vast amount of journalism appears online (sometimes solely online, and not simply republished from print). In a sense, long-form narrative journalism – the kind of writing he has a penchant for undertaking – benefits from the web interface. You can not only embed links to sources to validate your conclusions and to promote further learning, but you can also make your stories come alive by adding photography slideshows and video.

“On the other hand,” he cautioned, “how many people really use this resource? It’s there, we have an amazing amount of information available right at your finger tips, and I wonder how many technical writers bother.” Part of the curse of the internet is that its expansion seems tied to a decrease in people’s attention spans. Not only does this mean that many, if not most, will not spend hours reading important news when they could be scanning Facebook, but it also has a direct impact on the opportunities to publish just the kind of journalism that is Eichstaedt’s bread and butter.

“Newspapers have really contracted, and even though there’s a lot more information on the internet, print information has shrunk.” What this means is that the traditional opportunities for long-form journalism have diminished tremendously. What an editor might have considered a “long” article 15 or 20 years ago could have reached 10,000 words. Now, “long” tops out somewhere between 2,000 to 3,000 words. Because of the growth of the internet, and the reciprocal constriction of print media, it’s increasingly difficult to find work that goes into serious depth with issues that are undeniably complex and multifaceted. We have accessibility, but not depth and quality.

Counterintuitively, however, there may be hope. According to Eichstaedt, there the curse of the internet and web-publishing is that it has created a void of long-form narratives, and journalists like him are stepping up trying to fill it. In a sense, long-form journalism has become a niche market because it is no longer the norm – there is so little of it done anywhere. Consequently, it is incumbent upon journalists to try to turn the decline of print to their advantage by positioning themselves as capable of providing an important form of writing that is little practiced in the age of the internet.

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