Monday, July 13, 2009

The Future of Journalism

I came across an interesting post by Felix Salmon on the differences between traditional journalism and blogging. It takes the form of pointers for journalists aspiring to become bloggers, and includes lots of tips for successful blogging. This made me think of the legions of reporters from the old media, like Rick Redfern from Doonesbury, trying to adapt themselves to the new.

Like a lot of people, I worry about the death of newspapers, but maybe that is just because I enjoy the ritual of reading the paper with my morning coffee; a habit I would be reluctant to give up after many years. I probably should not worry about the decline of the physical paper (in fact I should probably be happy to save trees); but I think I am right to worry about the future of journalism in general. I don't think the personal ramblings of part-time or even full time bloggers can substitute for the old-fashioned research and investigation necessary to dig out the facts behind a story. I don't presume to journalism on this site; I'm just a hobbyist with a point of view who enjoys writing about current events. I don't have the time or resources to gather the news. I'm just trying to start a conversation.

For example, I was thinking of writing something about this incident in Philadelphia of the private swimming pool kicking out the group of mostly black day campers. But I decided not to because I think what is really needed is for some smart reporter to interview all of the relevant parties and do an extended piece on what is really going on there. It doesn't really matter whether that kind of reporting shows up on tv or radio or a magazine or newspaper, or on the internet. What matters is that somebody takes the time and effort to do some thorough interviews. I would bet that it is a lot more complicated and interesting a story than has appeared so far on any news outlet. If I were to write about it, I would probably just say that. (Hey, I just did!)

The internet is a great source of news, but most of it just feeds off the reports of real journalists. We need to find a way to support the reporters who do the hard work that goes into digging out and writing the news stories that all of the media, including humble blogs like this one, find vital.

The irony is that we are still devoting plenty of resources to all kinds of media. I once visited a local morning news show, and was amazed at how many people it takes to put on a show like that, while at the same time just how few of those people are in any way involved in gathering real news. News organizations in general, especially television, spend plenty of money, but almost all of that money goes into paying the salaries of high priced news anchors, or paying for the production staff and all the fancy equipment. Very little money goes to supporting the kind of reporters who do the legwork necessary to get the full story, because what attracts the most viewers is not the content, but the manner of delivery of the news. We ought to be able to find a way to charge everybody who is either packaging or reading or watching the news so as to pay for the reporters we all desperately need to get the story. But nobody seems to have found a solution to this problem yet.


  1. Good points. Papers have slashed their budgets for "city hall" reporters who look for corruption or other things, attend board meetings, etc. I think this has allowed politicians to pass more suspect laws and spending.

    It is a shame but I think the politicial leanings of most of these organizations cause their paid readers to drop them which reduces their income which causes less real reporting to be done.

  2. Excellent points! Where the rubber meets the road is where journalistic skill is honed.