Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Here's A Possible, Albeit Partial, Antidote
To Worries About Journalism's Meltdown

If you're bummed out, worried, alarmed (take your pick) by the continuing meltdown in traditional journalism (about which we'll have an awful lot more to say in coming days and weeks), please consider doing this first. Take some time, though only when you have it, to click around and read some of this amazing work produced by the new batch of finalists for the Online News Association's annual awards. We can't say we've looked at all of it yet, and of course there are some things that will be familiar to just about any casual web reader, let alone those who are more devoted. But what we've reviewed thus far gives us renewed hope for the future. Naturally, we could use a whole lot more material like this. Anyway, enough about what we think. We'd love to hear your thoughts, including specifics about what you particularly liked here, and why. We won't settle any arguments, but merely hope to prompt a few.


At 4:32 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

Isn't most of the panic related to the changing state of the medium of distribution, rather than about the writing itself? At least it seems that way to me, sometimes. Granted, there have been plagiarism and other scandals on the big papers in recent years, and with most book review sections being dropped from most big papers, where can one turn but to the (mostly unpaid) literary blogosphere to find reviews?

I am more concerned by the TV news having become mere infotainment. "Fox News" is an oxymoron, for example; and to be blunt, I don't trust CNN much more. (I do still trust PBS News, and NPR News, mostly because they take some real airtime to give us more than just screaming headlines.)

Part of the problem, as has been pointed out by several post-McLuhanites, that if you have a 24-hour news channel, you have to fins something to fill all that time with. There just isn't enough serious, real news most days to do that; so you get mounds of fluff, and lots of numbing repetition. Would Bill O'Reilly have ever been given airtime before cable network news evolved? Or any of the other non-reportorial "op ed" cranks?

All this tends to make both reporters and producers go shallow rather than deep. It tends to promote titillation rather than substantive reporting, and when it's commercially-driven, it also tends to situations of self-censorship and self-editing when the bottom-line of profits might be affected. All of which skews the news reporting from its outset.

But again, all of these effects and events and derivable from the ongoing change of media from print to video and online.

At 5:10 PM, Blogger Kim said...

We are drowning in a sea of information. I was recently accused of being "too dramatic" with my writing style, and it was a comment that made me pause and think...

Information goes from trivial to sensationalized, to either catch a reader or not offend one. What a spectrum!

I am guilty myself of intentionally using a search friendly word in a recent article (it was more of an experiment that proved successful), simply to hope to draw in more readers.

What should a conscientious writer do, John?

At 5:11 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

I'll come back for a longer answer later, Art, but the short answer is that the changing method of distribution is seriously affecting the dollars to be gleaned from journalism (a paper's website, for instance, can only charge advertisers about 20% of what the charge would be for an ad in the print version), which in turn is wreaking massive havoc on newsrooms. In other words, they can afford a lot fewer writers than they used to. So yes, those things are absolutely tied at the hip.

As for TV "journalism," well, I'm on record as saying that hardly exists anymore. Some on PBS (especially including the heroic yeoman's job the Frontline series does) and occasionally on CNN. Beyond that, it's pretty slim pickin's.

At 5:12 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Kim, you were posting a comment just as I was also. I love your question, though, and it deserves a good answer, when I have more time to address it, which I will late tonight or first thing tomorrow. At the moment, I'm off for cocktails with a trio of writerly pals, which I'm quite looking forward to. Only wish you could all join us.

At 6:29 PM, Blogger Kim said...

If there was ever a time to clone myself, this would be it!

I'm off to listen to our esteemed enator Brown speak at YSU about Health Care.

Have one for me :)

At 6:30 PM, Blogger Kim said...

that would be Senator***

At 7:20 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...


cocktails for three . . . .

Best wishes for the weekend. Me, I'm off tomorrow to visit the Minnesota State Fair, one of the best in the US, in my opinion.

At 8:55 PM, Blogger Jeff Hershberger said...

Scott Rosenberg devoted a fairly large chunk of his new book about blogging, "say everything", to the 'journalists vs. bloggers' wars. But that argument has always been a bit of a straw man. Blogging is not journalism's problem, in fact, it'd be fair to say that current-events blogging depends pretty heavily on on-location journalism.

The Internet can, potentially at least, do book reviews very well. There's nothing stopping them. Look at your sunday paper and calculate the percentage of it that couldn't have been written any other way than to be created from scratch by your local news organization--say, the Plain Dealer--and what percentage is along for the ride. The problem is that that small percentage is irreplaceable.

I don't know what the answer is, but we have to find some way to fund local, hands-on investigative reporting.

At 10:01 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

The Minnesota state fair sounds like a hoot. How cool that you'll be there, Art. Do have fun. Kim, I hope you'll let us know how the Sherrod Brown event went. Jeff, I would simply call the material that's irreplaceable in a newpaper accountability reporting, the bread and butter stuff about the nuts and bolts of government, business and society, without which lots of bad things happen. Things like economic meltdowns when the SEC is permitted to largely stop regulating the markets or phone company overcharging customers when eagle-eyed consumer reporters aren't scouring their bills and asking tough questions about what all those numbers mean. And to your point, journalism is as journalism does. It can happen just as easily online as in print, or be supplied by an inquisitive lawyer just as easily as by a journalist. But it has to be done, and--this is the key thing--a critical mass of readers must be assembled to consume it so that it has sufficient impact to get results, and leave the perpetrators feeling there's a watchdog on the beat. No easy issues in all this.

At 8:16 AM, Blogger Kim said...

The lecture is supposed to be posted on youtube later, it speaks for itself. As to me, I remain proud of our state Senator, who has integrity to spare.

He answered the tough questions with honesty, he was not afraid to say he didn't know some things, and when someone asked stupid questions (yes, there are such a thing), he gracefully kept the topic at hand.

I also got to shake hands with his wonderful wife and esteemed fellow writer. She, too, is the epitome of grace.

If only I had walked out the right door of the building and not spent 45 minutes wandering around downtown Youngstown looking for my car. Grateful for the extra police cars patroling the area, though!

At 8:40 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

That is such a trust-building thing, isn't it, when a person in authority occasionally admits they don't know something? How refreshing in a U.S. Senator, so many of which just self-importantly babble on when they don't know what they're talking about. So glad you eventually made it to your car and got home, Kim. And thanks for the report. Please let us know when that video is up, and we'll be happy to post a link.


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