A post that arises from a certain image I have of disaffected newsroom “traditionalists,” who look upon changes in journalism since the rise of the web with fear and loathing. It is not addressed to particular people but to a climate of mind I’ve encountered a lot in blogging about all this since 2003.
Look, you’re right. About a lot of things.
Editing by click rate is stupid and unethical. Chasing traffic is an abyss. The hamsterization of journalism is degrading the work environment for news professionals. Expecting reporters to report, write, blog, tweet, shoot video, sift the web, raise their metabolism, and produce more without time and training is guaranteed to fail. Trading in print dollars for digital dimes has been an economic disaster for newsrooms that ran on those dollars. Online advertising will never replace what was lost. The editorial staff is the engine that makes the whole thing go. You cannot cut your way to the future. The term “content” is a barbarism that bit by bit devalues what journalists do. Pure aggregation is parasitic on original reporting. Untended, online comment sections have become sewers, protectorates for the deranged, depraved and deluded. That we have fewer eyes on power, fewer journalists at the capital or city hall watching what goes on, almost guarantees that there will be more corruption. Bloggers and citizen journalists cannot fill the gap. Experienced beat reporters are the community’s institutional memory. Everyone needs an editor. It’s absurd to claim that “anyone” can be a journalist if we mean by that someone who knows how to find the right sources and ask the right questions, dig for information, counter the spin, produce a fair, accurate and unflinching account without libeling anybody– and do it all on deadline.
But you’re wrong about a lot of things too.
Being ignorant and uninvolved in “the business side” has been a disaster for the newsroom. For all its strengths, separation of church and state also meant no seat at the table when the big decisions were made. Anyone who doesn’t want to know what the numbers say should not be trusted with editorial decisions. Listening to demand is smart journalism, so is giving people what they have no way to demand because they don’t know about it yet. If you are good at one, the other goes better. “Do what you do best and link to the rest” isn’t a slogan, it’s your only hope for comprehensive coverage. Figuring out how to make things happen at lower cost is intrinsic to quality journalism today. Pack journalism and duplicative coverage mock your claims of crisis. In the aggregate, the users know more than you do about most things. They are in many more places than you can be. They also help distribute your stuff. Therefore talking with them is basic to your job. Google isn’t the source of your troubles; it sends you traffic. Digitally, the original sin wasn’t failing to charge when the first news sites came online; it was re-purposing the old platform’s material. A journalist is just a heightened case of an informed citizen, not a special class. The First Amendment doesn’t mention your occupation; it refers to everyone’s right to publish. “Who’s a journalist?” leads nowhere so drop it.