The Nub of the Gist: Newspapers, Journalism and an Informed Public

Why is the newspaper industry important?

Why must it be saved? Is it because it's a bastion of information necessary to keep the public informed and to hold accountable those who "serve" in elected office, or is it important to save the industry because of its historic roots, massive size or simply due to the potential influence it could have on the current depression-like recession?

Dan Kennedy of The Guardian UK hits the nail on the head with his recent article, posted Tuesday 12 May 2009:

The challenge isn't to save newspapers – it's to save journalism.

A little further on, he elaborates on this by further defining the purpose of journalism:

The real value that newspapers provide, whether in print or online, is organisation, editing and reputation. Rather than spurning citizen journalists and bloggers, newspapers should embrace them, acting as trusted guides to the best and most reliable sources of information.

Murdoch may groan. The Sulzbergers may mourn. Simon may sneer. But the goal isn't the survival of an industry – it's an informed citizenry.

Let's pull that last sentence and highlight it, shall we?

    But the goal isn't the survival of an industry – it's an informed citizenry.

It's not the mere existence of Journalism that holds governments accountable. It's not Fox ("Faux") News, it's not the New York Times, it's not CNN. It's not even blogs or citizen journalism websites.

The media -- the "free press" bemoaned by Nixon and praised by Jefferson -- has morphed and evolved, but the value of the media hasn't changed with regard to the role it is required to play in any healthy democracy: the role it to inform the public and to hold the government, the captains of industry and the purveyors of power and influence accountable to the people.

Together with a solid educational foundation, the "free press" and a citizenry that is both informed and educated work together to ensure that the fiascos of the past aren't carried onward into the future. Had the media done its job instead of losing its way over the past 8 years, we'd be in a far different -- and likely better -- place in terms of matters ranging from social, economic, military and infrastructure.

    "...the goal isn't the survival of an industry – it's an informed citizenry."

And an accountable government -- of, by and for the people.

Hat-tip to peter1a for the pointer to the Guardian story.

Update: Check out this prior piece by Prof. Aaron Barlow:

The piece was written for a roundtable at the the Southern States Communication Association annual meeting in Norfolk, VA on April 3, 2009.

 

 

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I am not sure what "the media" will look like in 10 years but I am pretty sure that as more and more papers go out of business you are going to see more and more Journalists rise to the top hiearchy of indy internet media (like CT News Junkie) and/or in formats where they spin off of the still thriving TV media (like the politico/ABC).

The best of them will earn their bucks in mega hits while the print slowly dies off.

Right now, there are a ton of Journalists looking for work from layoffs across the nation and there are no other print oufits hiring. If they really want to write they will very likely end up on a Blog. If they are good they will earn a living.

I laugh when I hear about MSM plans to go to eReaders (kindle, etc.) because we have already seen the whole behind the firewall scheme backfire. Who the heck is going to buy a $500 Kindle just to read a newspaper when the people won't even pay to read the content online?

I can buy two more functional netbooks for that kind of money.

The conversation on journalism is moving in this direction, which must be scaring journalists!

 

Here's a link on something I wrote related to this:

Pro/Am Collaboration In Reporting: Is It Really Needed?

the DailyKos and this version of the article.

Thanks, Aaron.

I don’t see the demise of corporately controlled journalism a bad thing.  Blog journalists are the trend of the future–and should be.  Under corporate control (the NYT, for example), we have elitists telling us who we should listen to and what we should think.  We have editors hired by the corporation deciding whose opinions are valid, and what issues are important. In the blogosphere, the people decide.  That’s a much more egalitarian system.

In the future, the people are going to decide which bloggers are the best journalist, and in the case of columnists, whose opinions are most relevant to their lives. Thereafter, the people are going to start follow those journalists, and the advertisers are going to follow the people.  So in essence, the demise of newspapers is simply a process of cutting out the middle-man–and as I see it, that’s a good thing. It's a natural response to the trend where journalists are becoming bigger stars than the people they cover.
 

Eric L. Wattree
wattree.blogspot.com

Religious bigotry: It's not that I hate everybody who doesn't look, think, and act like me - it's just that God does.

Here's the response I left there:

Wattree -- " the people are going to decide which bloggers are the best journalist, and in the case of columnists, whose opinions are most relevant to their lives" -- that's certainly something I can agree with. I'll miss some of the nostalgic aspects of the papers, esp. some of those which help take the pulse of a community or help illustrate a point in history. When the content becomes all-digital, it also becomes more volatile, less "lasting" ... which is both good and bad. We could be entering an electronic dark age from which archaeologists may say they can discover nothing of their forefathers because nothing was ever truly recorded, and our current works are shoddy and ephemeral at best in terms of public works, infrastructure etc. (Which, too, might be a good thing, given how we've started this century off.)

The potential, pending transitions and changes can bring both good and bad things, sometimes in the same package, but ultimately if it helps society remain informed and constantly working in a self-improving mode by culling the b.s., fostering a greater sense of reality and inherent wisdom, it's not a bad thing. It would be, in fact, evolutionary -- and in a manner/method we've been sorely lacking as our technology has far outpaced our wisdom and compassion.

By definition, the only difference between a professional and an amateur journalist is a job--and paid blogging is rapidly erasing that distinction.  

Journalism as a profession has lost a lot respect, credibility, and stature among the public due to it’s abject failure in remaining independent and responsive to the public’s "need to know" during the Bush administration. Both individual journalists and news organizations allowed themselves to be bullied and intimidated by the neo-cons.  As a result, they became nothing more than public relations outlets for the administration. Even now they’re propagating the party line. What is an "enhanced interrogation technique?" It’s torture–it doesn’t take but a second to research the issue. So it’s no wonder the public has absolutely no confidence in them.

Another thing that’s led to the demise of journalism as a profession is that the news organizations are much too intimately connected to the corporations that they're supposed to be reporting on. How can the public have any faith in the reporting of a news organization that's reporting on its parent company?

And finally, the reporters are becoming more important than the people that they’re reporting on. I have a problem with that. I don’t want to turn on the television and see reporters and politicians hobnobbing at dinner together, or see reporters who have become so important that the president has to show up at they’re events to tell jokes and jump through hoops for them.

I want to see a complete separation between press and state–the founding fathers were remiss in not adding that to the constitution.

 

Eric L. Wattree
wattree.blogspot.com

Religious bigotry: It's not that I hate everybody who doesn't look, think, and act like me - it's just that God does.

since journalism lost its way. 

There's a reason why Citizen Kane was voted the best movie of the 20th century and it wasn't just the innovative camera angles.  It was the subject matter.  The death of the "informed citizen".  Citizen Kane was a commentary on Hearst and how he disinformed the American public.  They even spelled out how he was able to do so:

He took control of large swaths of media outlets across America.

Our founding fathers meant for jounalism to keep citizens informed because nobody controlled the media.  It was made up of many, many small papers scattered about the nation.

Those days died with Hearst and an informed citizenry died with it.  Even Hitler marveled at the American propaganda machine and designed the Third Reichs to emulate it.

I think the Hearst days were partially recognized and (partially) adjusted for, but we definitely keep getting back to that point of decrepit control and deceit.

I just don't think it's permanent.

The advent of blogging, citizen journalism, micro-blogging -- it all challenges and shakes up the major controlling factors, at least until they can find and implement methods to mitigate what they can't control and to control anything they re-assert influence upon.

With the amount of people now speaking out and waking up in the face of so much blatant hypocrisy, corruption and destruction, we might find that the major interests may never be able to fully "recover" their control, even after undergoing the morphing process that they'll inevitably have to complete (at least on their most public faces).

from the guys at JibJab

".....or simply due to the potential influence it could have on the current depression-like recession?...."

That's the problem, journalistic standards and integrity are nowhere near the level of say Bob Woodward who exposed the Watergate scandal in the 70s. Take the current gobal financial crisis, it was independent bloggers like Max Keiser who first exposed the dangers of the sub prime crisis and the potential collapse of currencies like the Icelandic Kroner. This type of investigative reporting was not seen in mainstream newspapers.

".....Who the heck is going to buy a $500 Kindle just to read a newspaper when the people won't even pay to read the content online?....."

Exactly, no one will shell out that kind of money for a Kindle when cheap laptops with 160GB hard drives and rapier like atom processors can now be purchased for under $300.