After reading Ann Rockley's piece "The Impact of Single Sourcing and Technology," I was struck by the idea that everyone is dealing with this sort of issue on some level, not just the media and technical writers.
As a print journalist, I have experienced the drastic increase in demands on media folks. It started so simply in the mid-1990s, when some of us in the newspaper business began posting additional context or photos on the Web. By the time I left my staff writing job in 2007, a single newspaper story could easily be transformed and remediated a half dozen times or more in a day. What in the past could have been a two or three hour job instead turned into a full day's work of shifting and updating. That is not necessarily a positive development in an industry that's radically cutting costs and staff. It takes a lot of time to do this sort of remediation and transforming and continual updating, sucking the energy out of the will to produce new stories. In many cases, it creates a paralysis based on the immediacy of the story, a loop of constant checks to see what has changed since the last call, five minutes before. The problem is, things change constantly on any piece, and there's only so much of this polishing that any sane person can do. Even on breaking stories, which generally deserve this sort of attentiveness, I sense that journalists often have become slaves to the story, rather than insightful messengers of what the narrative really means to the world.
Another issue that arose was the default of: Did you create a photo slideshow for that? Did you create a podcast? Did you create a video? Some stories, frankly, don't work well in those media. Some work wonderfully.
Karen Peterson, Executive Editor at The News Tribune in Tacoma, shared a mantra with me once, "pick the right tool for the right job," and maybe that's a nod to Roy Peter Clark's toolbox metaphor, but I think it rings true regardless of the field in which the remediation effort takes place.
If you are creating a piece about something inherently nonvisual, either find the visual angle on it, or don't try to force it into a video or photoslideshow. Same with a podcast. Don't drone on about something that people don't want to hear. My fallback is a dinner party metaphor, would you want to be stuck in a corner with this piece of media? If not, it's not in the right form, or maybe it shouldn't be created at all.
That last point is a critical one. Just because you or I might have an idea, doesn't mean it's a good one. Just because you can make a podcast on constructing a bicycle, doesn't mean you should. The right tool for the right job.
Before remediating any single source material into a dozen forms, it first might be a good idea to ask why? Does the world really need any more static, or noise? Instead of remediating into a dozen forms, would it be more effective to look closely at what you are creating, and choose the best form for it, and really emphasize quality on that form, playing to its strengths? Unless you are running a highly funded marketing or advertising campaign, I doubt that saturation really is the goal. It's probably to make connections with the people who matter in your business. And that isn't a haphazard task. It probably requires a scalpel, not a chainsaw.
I think all of us are getting better and better at tuning out the noise in our lives. Single sourcing, to me, seems like the foundation of propaganda, the spread of a message rather than information. While in some cases it is convenient to just upload the manual to the web, and it might be better than nothing. But in that same amount of time, could something greater have been created?
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