In 2009, Let’s All Be In This Together

Old media vs. new media. Tired, tired, tired.

I’m far from the first blogger/Twitterer to point out that it is getting old, but yet, it persists. New media folks love to congratulate themselves over how smart and cutting edge they are and to snuffle at those who just “don’t get it.” (The journalism Twitterverse was alive with self-satisfied, condescending giggles at year-end “you’ll miss us when we are gone” columns appearing in force in newspapers). Old media types are still quiver over the inferiority of “the blogs” et. al. and how these uppity upstarts “can’t replace” their standards and their judgment.

Let’s try something new in a new year. Or perhaps better put, let’s remember something old.

What this fight is really about, at its core, is journalism. I believe in journalism like I believe in few other things. Journalism is, according to the hundreds of journalists, academics, and citizens interviewed around the country by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, a process governed by a set of core principles for the purpose of giving citizens the information they need to be free.

These principles (which bear review for all of us) are what define journalism – not who practices them or what organization (or lack therof) they work for. Anyone CAN be a journalist, provided they do work in accordance with those principles. Also, journalism is not a FORM. Journalism can take place on a blog, on a You Tube video, in a newspaper, or on TV (etc.). These things are just the shell, the tool, the vehicle.

Distilled to its essence, journalism is ultimately a search for what the brilliant Stephen Ward calls pragmatic truth. It is a method that assists us in the constant struggle for an inherently imperfect understanding of the world around us. This struggle has been around long before the printing press and the term “journalism” was even invented, though through the years we’ve continued to adapt, and (mostly) improve the method. Journalism tells us stories about ourselves and the time we live in. It binds us together. It keeps us free.

Advocates of citizen journalism who would just as soon see newspapers implode and the most curmudgeonly city editor out there who sneers at the self-absorption of those who Tweet, I think, agree on some fundamental level that journalism – if defined this way – is good. It matters. It is worth fighting for.

This is not an either-or, zero sum game. Traditional and new media are BOTH vital – we are on the SAME TEAM. The “Internets” — as we fondly called them in graduate school — make journalism BETTER – offering a host of ways to make those principles come to life.

The current rub is that most (not all) of the people who abide by these principles of journalism work at newspapers. And at the other “mainstream media” outlets as well. Newspapers are still the largest employers of journalists in local communities. Just because everyone CAN be a journalist doesn’t mean that everyone WILL – funny how it helps to have a paycheck, health insurance, and a 401K to really get things DONE. It is hard work, after all. The important thing is certainly not the dead trees or the form but the PEOPLE whose job it is to do this very important thing called journalism.  What we need to do is find as many creative ways as possible to keep those people doing journalism – in whatever form it may take and regardless of who ultimately signs the paycheck.

What we are REALLY up against, all of us, in my view, is a poor education system that does not do a very good job teaching people the basics of government and the fourth estate nor prepare them with the writing and information gathering skills they need to be more than passive media observers.  We are up against a broken business model that hugely undervalues the service we provide to our communities. We are up against apathy and anti-intellectualism. We are up against mind-numbing reality television and infotainment. We are up against a culture that makes having work-life balance an ever-elusive goal, a culture in which we barely have time to breathe much less truly care about and invest in our communities.

OUR new years resolutions should be less infighting and gloating, more solutions. More transparency. Do our part in a variety of ways to empower the voiceless in our communities to learn how to create their own content and to recognize the value of journalism.

All hands on deck, people. We’ve got a wild ride ahead.

2 Comments

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2 responses to “In 2009, Let’s All Be In This Together

  1. Pingback: Printed Matters » I am not alone

  2. JG

    Great post, Brown. I think you hit on the bigger issue: The failure of our educational system to reinforce the importance of the Fourth Estate.

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