Each one teach one: Journalism hope or fear?

Advancements in media technologies have given society new ways to analyze and share information quickly across the globe. But changes in technology, business and governments have made funding the gathering, analysis and sharing of the information problematic.

The problem is analogous to issues in health care: scientists and researchers have developed new tools to fight disease and diagnose health problems, but the costs of paying for and distributing those developments have put their use out of the reach of the average person across the world.

Similarly, changes in the business model for many traditional news-gathering organizations have made analysis and delivery of quality information difficult. Consumers of that information expect it to be free, and they want to be entertained at the same time.

Consumers don’t have to rely solely on traditional media anymore for information, and that’s a good development. But new alternative voices bubbling up from “citizen journalists” lack traditional journalism training and also face the same funding questions that traditional media face.

New funding sources and methods have to be found to get the technology and massive amounts of data into the hands of average citizens in a way that can be useful. At the same time, the valuable, traditional journalism ethics need to be spread to a wider range of voices to ensure quality journalism in the future.

I’m part of the “traditional media,” on the young side of the Baby Boom generation, a group of people who never thought they’d be considered “traditional.” As a group, we’re slowly beginning to adopt the new ideas that entrepreneurs have developed. But years of habit and corporate ownership slow us down. We fear our jobs won’t last until we can retire, and we fear that the future of journalism is threatened, and thus one foundation of democracy could crumble ( Bill Moyers). Some journalists of my generation are moving into new media, but funding remains an issue ( David Boraks).

Here are some major factors to consider:
1. Many traditional media have been slow to adopt new technologies that allow increased engagement from readers and the integration of visual storytelling online. Corporate culture makes it difficult to adapt quickly.
2. Demographics contribute to change — or the lack of change — in the industry. Many newsrooms in the United States are dominated by Baby Boomers, a unique generation of journalists inspired by Watergate o enter an industry they hoped would change the world ( American Journalism Review.) Money was not their prime motivator, but many counted on the industry to provide a living to support families. These boomers are nearing retirement. The values, skills and approaches of new workers will be different.
3. Education of journalists across the world is evolving at an uneven pace, depending on technology access, the institutions’ ability to embrace change and often, the awareness of individual teachers. Technology’s rapid change makes it hard to keep up.
4. Heavy consumption of infotainment skews coverage across the world. Internet users surfing at lunch hit sites with celebrity and sports news, or bizarre stories with little lasting impact. U.S. media dependent on increasing traffic to increase revenue change their mix to satisfy consumers’ cravings, and international consumers of Western media get a distorted picture of a country that seems obsessed with teen idols and celebrity sports stars.

Amid despair and fear, hope sometimes emerges. The 2008 presidential elections in the United States promise increased creativity and increased attention on civic affairs from a new generation. The Baby Boom echo, which grew up with technology, is coming of age and will change our institutions in surprising ways. Foundations and colleges are finding ways to fund new media experiments ( Idea Lab). Technology leaders, new and old, are showing an increased interest in the importance of journalism to society ( Craig Newmark).

And so it goes. See separate “Each one teach one” posts for fears, recommendations and online resources.

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7 responses to “Each one teach one: Journalism hope or fear?

  1. Andria,
    Philip Meyer would agree wholeheartedly with your statement that “Consumers don’t have to rely solely on traditional media anymore for information, and that’s a good development. But new alternative voices bubbling up from “citizen journalists” lack traditional journalism training and also face the same funding questions that traditional media face.”

    But your recommendations for solutions were a bit vague. Do you support some sort of certification process for journalists in order to restore quality and public faith in the news? Note I’m not talking here about government licensing. No, I’m suggesting an industrywide certification process, like what exists in meteorology journalism, medical journalism, and business reporting. Our school offers certificates in the latter two. With citizen journalists increasingly generating news content, I think this is something we should be considering.

  2. Good question.
    Former Charlotte TV meteorologist Terri Bennett posts the American Meteorological Society logo on her about page. That page serves as a credential for her expertise.
    It’s here:
    http://www.terribennett.com/about-terri.cfm
    I had an idea in my head earlier along the lines of a “master gardener” program. I like the idea that if one seeks certification, one should perform a certain amount of education and community service as a requirement.
    Beyond that, I get a little nervous about certifying people. Must think it through more.
    Thanks for pushing me to go deeper.

  3. I would somewhat agree with your statement that “we fear that the future of journalism is threatened, and thus one foundation of democracy could crumble ( Bill Moyers).” If traditional news funding continues to decline, there is a concern about there being enough qualified journalists to keep our democracy working smoothly. However, I would submit that we have had this problem long before the economy began to wane for newspapers and traditional media.

    I have always felt that the most important function of true journalists is to interpret the “party line” that our politicians and government officials spout. Journalists need to dig beneath the rhetoric. However, in so many news organizations, journalists get by with reporting what the newsmakers say and do not dig and search and look for discrepancies in statements and statistics. Quite often it is good enough if you can turn a pretty phrase, craft a coherent sentence, and use proper transitions. Whatever happened to the crotchety news people who weren’t afraid of alienating their sources or asking the questions that run counter to political correctness?

    There are a few alive and well in Graham, NC. The Alamance News is an example of a small town newspaper that has the right idea. This article in the Raleigh News and Observer does a pretty good job of sizing up former editor Tom Boney and current editor Tom Boney, Jr. (http://www.newsobserver.com/100/v-print/story/419854.html). Here are some excerpts:
    “When country club members called to demand that the newspaper not report on their drunken-driving arrests, the elder Boney wrote down their information in detail — then published it.”
    And
    “Boney once refused to leave a courtroom being closed for a hearing on a juvenile offender, he and his attorneys say. Boney told the judge he would have to arrest him to get him out. The judge and the lawyers in the case backed down.

    “Tom is an absolute bulldog,” says his press attorney, Hugh Stevens of Raleigh, who also represents The News & Observer. “He goes the extra mile to hold public officials accountable. If every editor in North Carolina fought as hard for the public’s right to know as Tom does, we’d know a heck of a lot more. He is a man of great principle.”

    Perhaps it is because I believe many things that run counter to our largely atheistic culture that I am disappointed almost daily in the fact that people believe almost anything that comes down the line without any deep thought or analysis. And the Pied Piper is quite often the journalist, jumping on the PC bandwagon, refusing to entertain any notion that might cause his or her fellow journalists to snicker, succumbing to peer pressure to not stray too far from accepted thinking.

    So, I would agree with the need to train journalists in investigative reporting, interpreting statistics, open meetings laws, etc. I could see some value in creating a credentialing process for bloggers that would encourage these budding writers to learn the techniques that will increase their effectiveness and foster integrity. I am not threatened by the prospect of a changing journalistic structure, but encouraged by it. I’m looking forward to seeing more fresh face, renegade, “but the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes” types of journalists bloom from the blogs.

  4. It seems to me that societies would continue to pay for their journalism as they always have: through the market. Since the start of the free-market journalism industry, news and information has been a commodity that people are willing to pay for. Journalism has never been free – it is paid for somehow, whether through purchase, or through advertising sales.
    There is talk about the passing of traditional media. The Economist, for example, talks about the demise of newspapers: Who Killed the Newspaper? I think the more important question would be to ask where journalism is going?: The Future of Newspapers.
    Newspapers still are relevant and central to the news media picture, but the mix of media is changing: The number of people visiting U.S. newspaper Web sites rose even as their print editions reported lower advertising sales.
    Some complete numbers: the newspaper footprint: total audience in print and online.
    The American Press Institute recently published an extensive study on how newspaper companies can deal with their troubles. New business models provide ways for newspapers to get and give, and buy and sell, information, while maintaining their traditional social and community relationships and roles. It just seems to be a reality that commercial journalism must change if it is to remain viable: Newspapers Next: The Transformation Project.
    But that’s more than 100 words.

  5. Sorry for the double post, but the links did not come out in the one above. Try again.

    It seems to me that societies would continue to pay for their journalism as they always have: through the market. Since the start of the free-market journalism industry, news and information has been a commodity that people are willing to pay for. Journalism has never been free – it is paid for somehow, whether through purchase, or through advertising sales.

    There is talk about the passing of traditional media. The Economist, for example, talks about the demise of newspapers: “Who Killed the Newspaper?” http://www.economist.com/opinion/displaystory.cfm?story_id=7830218 I think the more important question would be to ask where journalism is going?: “The Future of Newspapers” http://www.forbes.com/leadership/2006/10/10/leadership-newspapers-media-lead-innovation-cx_cc_1011clayton.html

    Newspapers still are relevant and central to the news media picture, but the mix of media is changing: people are visiting newspaper web site – news still has value – but are not reading the paper version http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&articleId=9044879&intsrc=hm_list

    Some complete numbers on the “newspaper footprint”: http://www.naa.org/docs/TrendsandNumbers/NAANewspaperFootprint.pdf

    The American Press Institute recently published the “Newspapers Next: The Transformation Project,” about how newspaper companies can deal with their troubles. New business models provide ways for newspapers to get and give, and buy and sell, information, while maintaining their traditional social and community relationships and roles. It just seems to be a reality that commercial journalism must change if it is to remain viable. http://www.newspapernext.org/N2%2520report%25202-07%25202.pdf

  6. Pingback: Reaction: The baby boomer journalists « Journalism and Mexican politics

  7. Pingback: EOTO2: Journalism funding « A Newspaper with Infinite Bureaus

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