What do you get when you take two polar extremes and fuse them into a single entity? A Pandora’s Box of possibilities and potential that is exciting to explore and not without its share of evils. To me, that is exactly what is at the core of social media architectural journalism. But how many people have actually opened this box and thoroughly explored it?
What is traditional journalism and how is social media journalism any different?
Like any other, I did a quick Google search of journalism before writing this piece.
Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “the work of collecting, writing, and publishing news stories and articles in newspapers and magazines or broadcasting them on radio and television.”
Interestingly, social media journalism did not show up any results. Social media marketing did, but journalism didn’t. This is fascinating to understand because many traditionalists believe that social media has completely altered the world of journalism, and largely for worse. Ideally, one would imagine that the concept of journalism would remain the same, irrespective of its medium. But that has not been the case with social media platforms. The way we absorb and perceive news has irrevocably changed in the last few years.
Let’s look at the good things first. Social media brings news to the masses in an instant. Any breaking story will be all over your feed if you are on any online platform. The days of waiting for newspapers or radio broadcasts every morning are long gone. Another positive aspect is the fact there’s an interactive, open channel of communication where it’s easy to get feedback, engage in public debate, and understand people’s response to a story. As a journalist, there are a lot more opportunities to work for online publications, freelance, or even directly publish your work. The fact is, you don’t even need to be a journalist to ‘make the news’, as it were. Anyone with access to the Internet and a social media account can report their side of the story.
This is where we come to the downside. The credibility of news has taken a hit, precisely because anybody can upload their version of an incident. There aren’t filters in place to monitor and edit the content being uploaded. And finally, we’re all fish, swimming in a sea of click-baits. Online publications are sustained by the traffic they generate, and for that, they require a certain number of people to click on their content. As a result, many subjects are left unexplored as they might not generate as many clicks as a trending or sensational subject or even a random listicle.
Where does architectural journalism fit in?
Architecture is a pretty niche subject. Any writing that’s done about it is largely created by architects for architects. This drastically reduces its reach as compared to any mainstream content. It is also a field that those with a passion for writing enter, typically during college, but are not very aware of how to take it forward. The tricky part is also to figure out the subjects you wish to write about. Architectural Journalism is a vast umbrella. It is important to be specific while writing any content – be it architecture. urban design, heritage or landscape. The list is endless.
How can I improve my writing?
There are a few simple guidelines you can follow if you are aspiring in architectural journalism. It may seem basic, but it will make a world of difference to your end product.
- There is no substitute for original content. Articles about creating a portfolio and conquering thesis are done to death unless you have a radical new approach to it. Pick a subject you are truly passionate about, find your angle, and take an honest approach to write about it. Jane Jacobs is probably the gold standard for this. She wasn’t an architect or planner, but her insight into cities and urban renewal plans was second to none.
- Simple language works better – This is the harsh truth. Most of us aspiring writers start off with big words and complicated language which does not resonate with a majority of people. But if you want a larger reach and want to communicate effectively on social media, it’s best if your language is correct and easily comprehensible.
- The more fieldwork, the better – First-hand experiences are the best form of research. You can always do your research online, which is what most people are doing these days. But that will not give you an unbiased opinion, and it will limit your opinions to those already formed by others. This is especially true for architecture because you truly understand a space, structure, or a city only when you experience it for yourself. The medium of expression that follows can be through sketches, drawings, photographs or write-ups. But it has to be done by you.
- Be critical – This is a tough one. Have you ever wondered why there are such less critical write-ups about any buildings or spaces? Most articles about built spaces I could find online waxed lyrical about the design and the architects. We need to take our blinkers off sometimes and analyze each space, keeping aside the presumed niceties towards the designer.
This is just to get you started. As you keep writing and developing your style, you will definitely understand how to connect with an audience and where you can further improve.
Career scope for Architectural Journalism?
The traditional route would have been to look for jobs with architecture journals like A+D, Architecture Digest, and so on. But today there are several online publications like Architecture Live, and Rethinking the Future that offers a platform for aspiring writers to hone their craft through internships, or work full-time to create content. Apart from this, there are several firms that are getting actively involved in research and writing. That would be the best approach to take for those who wish to write without giving up on their architecture practice.
And there’s always social media! A blog would be a good place to start – either on WordPress or on Instagram. If you don’t think you can consistently write, you can always explore different competitions and publications that have calls for entries. Work on your content and get it out there for people to see, and you will surely get an opportunity to build your career through it.
Anjali Sarmah is an architect by profession who writes to fulfill her passion. She is a heritage and sustainability enthusiast who wants to push for increased awareness about both fields. She’s an activist at heart who hopes to make a difference with her words someday.