Little doubt exists of the generational, ideological, and professional differences between two generations of journalists. The “old order,” shipping under the flags of the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe, and the Wall Street Journal, clearly fears the emergence of new media and Internet amateur press in the most dangerous form of blogging. Hugh Hewitt, in January, did a good job illustrating the fear even at the most powerful bastion of journalism, Columbia University’s graduate school of journalism.The elite and respected program is undergoing a structural change in the form of a fledgling two-year Master of Arts in Journalism program targeted at creating well-rounded journalists who know a little about a lot.
Hewitt also goes to great pains to identify THE WORST MOMENTS in recent journalistic history; most notably “Rathergate” and Jayson Blair’s and Eason Jordan’s respective blunders. It is also true that staff reductions at “the big five” newspapers are taking place. The New York Times is cutting 500 of its 12,300 employees, and in Boston, rumors persist of cutbacks at the Boston Globe. Hewitt lays out the fact that even the tabloids are cutting jobs! The field is certainly changing, but one fact, one unmistakable, yet rarely admitted avowal remains unreported.
Journalism is not dying.
Just as a growing boy’s voice deepens, journalism as a living being is merely going through professional puberty, and new media like blogging exists to fill journalism’s broadening shoulders. The “elite media,” which I understand is not a favorable term, have controlled journalism from the standpoint of honorable, gentlemanly ritual since before television or the printing press were a twinkle in their parents’ eyes. The mainstream media, like two (five) moguls playing golf at $1 million per hole, have always seemed to come out ahead. The goal: just enough wit to avoid pretension and just enough controversy to allow themselves to cover the war, letting the people know which side they are on but never letting on that they’re carrying a rifle.
The mainstream media is assuredly but not wholly leftist. The fortunate facet of this system was always that it was never a big secret that Jeff Jacoby is on the right and nearly everyone else is on the left. Despite a greater mass on one side, what both sides fear according to Hewitt, is being replaced by new (read: free) media available on the Internet written by people who the old basically consider amateurs. And more importantly, these “amateurs” have little or no regard for the legacy of the elite.
Blogging is nothing new. The first popular weblogs emerged in 2001 and gained power and prestige during the Trent Lot/Strom Thurmond controversies of 2002 when Lott, at a party honoring the senior senator, suggested that the United States would have been better off if he were elected president. Blogs spun this as a passive endorsement of racial segregation, and even though Lott’s comments were made a media-rich function, no major outlet picked up on the implied controversy until the millions of visitors reading weblogs forcibly grabbed their attention. The start of the war in Iraq most boldly and firstly illustrated the diversity of new media weblogs. Leftist and rightist bloggers have taken calculated and nearly equal stabs at each other throughout the wartime.
Now, blogging is not the natural enemy of print journalism. While it has become increasingly more mainstream, its intentions and indeed its eventualities will not lead to the destruction of the newspaper. At this stage, Hewitt aptly details that the bloggers are becoming very good at investigative journalism. Like it or love it, this means nothing in the grand scheme of journalism, which, again, is not dying. The problem as it exists today is that the blog is treated more like the Blob than a legitimate journalistic source. Was not the first “blog” the giant scoop nexus that is the AP wire? Weblogging is merely a whole lot larger and decentralized.
The journalist’s background is much less important than the validity of the story being reported on. Dan Rather, once the most trusted and unquestioned journalist in the American living room, was derailed by invalid information. However, Andrew Sullivan, who is by no means a household name, remains unfettered as a blogger. With the sheer freedom of Internet self-publication, blogging faces the hitch of brash opinionism and, of course, out and out lying, but nonetheless, mainstream journalism can draw from the plentiful waters of the weblog as useful sources of information.
I do believe that this will happen.
As bloggers continue to put out investigative stories at an impressive pace, validation techniques will improve to the level by which the “elite media” can start to source them on a wide scale. Technology is a road that old journalists fear to cross. But, as the chicken needs to get to the other side, (last bit of jargon, I promise) the Wall Street Journal simply cannot ignore the fact that nearly 1/3 of their total paying subscribers are online readers who receive the internet/e-mail version of the newspaper. Even Hewitt cited Facebook, an immensely popular college networking portal, in The Media’s Ancien Régime.
Everette Dennis broadens the definition and approach to news decision-making in a coauthored book, “Media Debates.” Dennis claims that:
- News is a highly complex formulation that requires the best intelligence and a thoughtful strategy for professionals to fashion it properly.
- Editors and reporters are elitists, unrepresentative of their readers and viewers and unable to act effective on their behalf
- A marketing approach to news is the most effective and efficient way to select
and present news that is of interest to and pertinent for the audience. In such
a system, market research findings, which indicate reader and viewer
preferences, are used to decide news.
Now, Dennis’ argument throughout “Debates” is clearly cynical of the journalistic elite. I happen to not believe that market forces should decide what is news. One of the great factors of a free press is that they get to decide what they want to print or not print, and there are enough sources (and blogs) to cover the spectrum. Though, one point that I do take into account is that media research needs to be broadened. To this effect, it does not matter if the journalist is
elite or not. Their choice of graduate school does not matter when the news being reported is triumvirately relevant, valid, and interesting.
Similarly, the “elite media” do not have to worry about technology destroying the newspaper or the mass closure of media outlets. People will always read newspapers, even if one day, far away, they are no longer printed on paper and are subsequently merely news and not literally newspapers. People do read and watch the news, and the household name status of writers and anchors is not based upon their elite status but on their skill to deliver the product. Hugh Hewitt, himself, is not well known merely for his education. He is widely read because what he writes is widely readable. He writes an excellent story. Likewise, the popular television anchors have jobs because of their skill. Elite status plays into things only as far as elite education causes journalists to land high profile jobs, which is not a certainty.
I often read James Carroll’s weekly column in the Boston Globe. I don’t read it because I necessarily agree with what he has to say, and I often do not, but he is an excellent writer who is very well known among Globe readers. His column from earlier in the year, “Is America actually in a state of war?” is an intelligent commentary on the status of the nation. Moreover, it is a downright angry criticism of the Republican government. It is powerful writing that over a million people will read, but it is not elitist. Carroll, 63, does not fit the standard definition of the elite journalist. The priest-turned-journalist is merely a skilled writer with a proper education to enrich the skill set.
Elite status is not a requirement in this profession. Most journalists are beginning to realize this. Thus, just as there is clearly nothing wrong with a Berkley or Columbia Journalism education, likewise, nothing has stopped many of its professors from contributing to their own weblogs. The simple trade game continues, and while blogs jockey for position in the legitimate journalism world, the “big five” will live on with or without them, but almost certainly with.