musings of a mediabot

Archive for the ‘journalism’ Category

I received the following response (via email) to my last post:

I worry that the media is stuck right now between trying to be both all-knowing professional gatekeepers as well as just folks. They are so strongly influenced by citizen journalism, they may lose their internal compasses. What do you think about that? What about the role of popularity, ratings, money, and feedback in shaping how the modern journalist works?

This introduces the inevitable twist in journalism that results from the multi-directional feeding of information into various, and sometimes overlapping, digital forums. Has the internal compass shifted direction for the traditional journalist? If we take a look at the formal Code of Ethics for journalists, we can see where exactly the rules have been challenged. Journalists, no matter which platform they choose to publish their story, want to be heard, and not only that, but heard through a bold, capital headline. In the print media industry, one or two people choose which stories appear on the front page. In the digital media industry, anyone can force a story as the headline. It depends on how loud of voice the contributor has and how large of a buzz he or she can create.

I fear it is too tempting for the modern journalist to maintain an honest internal compass. By honest I mean to report facts that are newsworthy and have the potential to better the lives of its readers. It is the “bettering” people’s lives with which the modern journalist seems to have more difficulty handling. There are countless blogs, and more created each day; there are competing online news sources, both mainstream and below the radar; and then, there are the historical challenges to face. Which story gets read? Which story gets the most web traffic? Which stirs discussion? Which makes money for the parent company? But the modern journalist need not get tangled in these superficial reasons for informing the public.

The Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics is necessary, but what about the Why? Why do we need journalists?  Interestingly enough, the New York Times devotes only one line to address this question (see section A1 of The New York Times Company Policy on Ethics in Journalism). 

We need them because we need to be held accountable for what we do, how we treat each other, how our decisions impact others. We need journalists because we need to see ourselves objectively, in black and white, and be held up to scrutiny if our actions do harm to others. We need journalists because we need others to hear and read about how generous and caring we can be to our neighbors, both local and overseas. We need journalists because we need to continue to be inspired and reminded that we are all humans, and we are all connected – in one way or another.

Someone has been picking up my haggard criticisms of the Internet and technological gizmos that keep us connected to others even if we don’t want to be.  Am I really wrong for being suspicious of the possibility that giving people more freedom will reap digital unicorns and rainbows (and maybe, just maybe, actual news I care about?), and not this crap?

Gillmor takes the hopeful stand that “the audience will make the decisions,” and that online media sources will be the cornerstone of our daily news-getting because the audience demands it.  How?  By reading, listening, and watching it, by posting comments about it, by writing their own blog posts about it. 

Gillmor concludes that we make our own news.  Sometimes, we do it consciously.  Sometimes, we do it without knowing we’re doing it, and then have to face the consequences.   Sometimes, it’s not really news at all, but important to Mom and Aunt Sally, and dammit still news because we deem it so.   So, what makes news newsworthy?  Does it even matter anymore? 

The Internet-loving people are taking over web caverns by storm and news is now whatever the hell we want it to be. Some of us still read newspapers (What are they? you ask), or piece together what’s going on in the world by scanning headlines of the Express. Some of us even find out about serious happenings such as the presidential debate by reading our friends’ Facebook comments.

I am all for unity and for people from around the world to participate in a conversation. But, if the conversation is considered newsworthy, I want it to be important and to affect more than a handful of people who have time to banter back and forth about whether or not the iPhone is better than Google’s Android. Ok, maybe more than a handful of people are interested, but still…What happened to critical thinking?

To answer such questions as:

  • What is the role of journalism with all of the changes in the digital media landscape?
  • Who is the reporter when anyone can make news on the Internet?

I offer one direct and simple answer.

To the journalists: Don’t stop working your asses off to help us be informed citizens. Don’t stop engaging us and making us think.

To the readers: Keep reading what the journalists say. Read a lot and from different sources. Read, period. Think.

So do I think the definition of audience and reporter should be considered one and the same?  No way.