You may have heard that Tribune Publishing, which owns the Los Angeles Times and many other newspapers, has rebranded itself as tronc (Tribune Online Content). tronc (the lowercase “t” is the corporate spelling) brags that it will strengthen journalism by multiplying the amount of video used to tell stories and by relying on artificial intelligence (AI) to create links. The ultimate goal is to generate far more income. Two executives explained the reimagined company in a presentation that has gotten a lot of attention throughout the media world:
New York Magazine writer Madison Kircher mocked the executive’s jargon. In the video, we hear an executive say: “It’s about meeting in the middle, having a tech startup culture meet a legacy corporate culture and then evolving and changing. And that’s really the fun part.” Kircher’s translation: “Lots of people are going to get laid off, but your office might get a a few bean-bag chairs.”
Like many online commenters, Joe Weisenthal ridiculed the new company’s name in a Tweet: “Tronc sounds like a French verb in one of those tenses that you hardly ever use.”
But as Alex Balk came to closer to the heart of the matter when he Tweeted: “I guess it’s easier to laugh about how stupid ‘tronc’ sounds than cry about how the industry is dying.” In other words, the story isn’t just unfortunate verbiage. Rather it’s about the very essence of journalism. While tronc seeks increased earnings, authentic journalists have always been motivated by Plato’s 3000-year-old warning: “The unexamined life isn’t worth living.” At its best, journalism helps us see and examine all forms of public life including politics, war, the economy, and the arts.
There is nothing wrong with tronc’s emphasis on visual media. In the second half of the nineteenth century, journalists embraced the new art of photography to enrich their stories. A celebrated example is Street Life in London (1877). Later they learned to tell stories primarily with photos in what came to be known as photojournalism. Video is simply the next step in this evolution. The trouble begins when journalists embrace video primarily because it increases ad revenue rather than helps them tell the truth.
tronc’s emphasis on monetizing video will not lead to sustainable journalism. A far better model exists in the MoJo movement, where the story starts with a subject that is interesting. And it doesn’t require corporate posturing. Anyone can participate. All you need to do is keep your phone or tablet handy, pay attention to the world, and use your skills to capture a bit of reality. Here’s an example of a video about a homeless man with astonishing musical skills. It got a cool 20 million + views.
When you come up with something worth watching, you have many options. You can send it to your local TV station, upload it to Vimeo.com or YouTube.com, or post it on your Facebook page. And we hope you’ll tell us about it.