Wednesday, October 28, 2009

[WHILE I'M AWAY] Should we save newspapers -- or journalism?

"While I'm Away" could also be called my "I'm in Peru and can't blog" series. Enjoy the trip down memory lane!

Today's post: a blog lit review of the "journalism is dying!" discussion, with my own two cents thrown in.


Should we save newspapers -- or journalism?

It began with a Twitter chat ...
@RocchiJulia: Why we can't let newspaper journalism die: http://tinyurl.com/cfyknv

@spurdave [aka Dave Svet of Spur Communications]: Should we save journalism or newspapers? I would like to see journalism have a sustainable economic model.

@RocchiJulia: Good distinction. I think we need to preserve in-depth journalism. I agree, the model and delivery should change with the times.

@spurdave: Thanks. My Dad was a newspaper guy. Watching this is killing me. We can't mourn the death of journalism. We won't be safe.

@RocchiJulia: I think the shifting models have caused laziness -- biased reporting, lack of research, etc.

@spurdave: I think a lot of the lack of quality in current reporting is due to budget cuts and a thirst for ad $. Impartiality went away.

... and ended with me making a thinking face. (Which, for those of you who don't make these often enough, involves furrowing your brow and tapping your finger on your cheek in contemplation.)

Without a doubt, the institution of newspapers is dying, dealing another psychological blow to our bad-news-weary nation. Shrouds, wailing, and hand-wringing are rampant. But what should we really focus on resuscitating -- newspapers and their outmoded business models, or journalism itself?

Before we answer, let's have a quick lit review:

* First, the actual news about the news, best exemplified by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's move to digital-only format. Here are woeful and upbeat takes on the announcement.

* Then, the dire situation cast with fine doom-and-gloom panache by Albert R. Hunt. Key phrase: "... maybe when the economy rebounds, newspapers will get a bounce, too, although the structural problems predated the financial crisis. And there may be costly casualties in the interim. That may not matter much for a vibrant economy. It matters a lot for a vibrant democracy."

* After that, a look at Arianna Huffington and her model-shifting Huffington Post, credited for seeing the newswriting on the wall (or perhaps blamed by some for holding the pen).

* Immediately following, a glimpse into the future of the newspaper industry. Will it be a for-profit model a la GlobalPost? Or will we (brilliantly? awkwardly? inadvisedly?) combine two worlds with a service such as The Printed Blog?

* Now we're at the reigning champ of all these discussions, Clay Shirky's Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable. His key takeaway here:

Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism. For a century, the imperatives to strengthen journalism and to strengthen newspapers have been so tightly wound as to be indistinguishable. That’s been a fine accident to have, but when that accident stops, as it is stopping before our eyes, we’re going to need lots of other ways to strengthen journalism instead.

When we shift our attention from ’save newspapers’ to ’save society’, the imperative changes from ‘preserve the current institutions’ to ‘do whatever works.’ And what works today isn’t the same as what used to work.


* And finally, the end, with a strong summary from Mark Bertils (hat tip to Andrew Savikas at TOC):
Journalism is the act. Newspapers are the artifact. The infrastructure around the artifact is imploding, never to be replaced.

So what should we save? Journalism, of course. Its delivery vehicle is simply a straw man, one that can (and will be forced to) adapt with our Web-driven times. And what that will look like ... well, it doesn't seem anyone knows.

But we do know that our world continues to be tangled, confusing, even dark. Now more than ever, we need skeptics, watchdogs, interrogators, and gumshoes. We need eyes and ears in all the places and situations we fear to tread.

What's more, we need to support our journalists to ensure their essential service to our society continues. And we must hold them accountable to the highest possible standard of reporting and integrity, because in the end, their quality and content will be the only deciding benchmark of who survives the revolution.

Thinking faces on, everybody. There's more to come.

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