the funny thing about the internet is that you can stumble on something, read it, think it the freshest most original thing you ever read, and then realize it’s three years old.
such was my reaction upon finding a 2005 post by tim porter dissecting philip meyer’s book the vanishing newspaper. in the final of a series of posts, porter offers this alternative ending to the book (not being satisfied with meyer’s conclusion):
My ending lies in Meyer’s beginning of this chapter, words spoken by John S. Knight to “summarize the essential mission of traditional reporting.” They are: “Get the truth and print it.”
I believe the path to journalism’s future lies through its past, its roots, its “essential mission” of speaking truth to power, of being a champion for the community, of enabling conversation, of airing differences in society in order encourage commonality.
Sadly, I believe it is the very professionalism Meyer urges journalists to embrace further that has diminished newspapers’ capacity to fulfill those core purposes. Most newspapers bred the spirit and the fire and the spit out of themselves as they attempted to become all things to all readers and in the process became necessary to very few of them.
Professionalism, as Meyer points out, is a “conservative force against innovation,” which journalists need more of, not less.
If there is an “ism” journalists should embrace to ensure they have future vehicles to support John Knight’s “essential mission, then it is entrepreneurism. Don’t wait for new forms of media to emerge – build them yourselves.
That’s what former newspaperman Mark Potts is doing building Backfence.
And, that’s why Dan Gillmor left the San Jose Mercury News to found a new business for grassroots journalism.
There are examples, as well, of newspapers attempting to rebuild themselves. Some, like the Chicago Tribune with RedEye or the Dallas Morning News with Al Dia, are using traditional methods (newspapers) to reach niche audiences (young people and Spanish speakers.). Others, like the Bakersfield Californian with Northwest Voice, are breaking with tradition altogether and allowing the community to help create the news product.
I wish Meyer had ended with a call for action instead of a call to prepare for action. He could have paraphrased Scoop Nisker and made this his last sentence: If you don’t like the newspaper, go out and make your own.
i couldn’t agree more, with porter, or with john s. knight. somewhere along the line the pursuit of truth has ceased to be the lodestone for newsrooms. what’s replaced it? in some cases, pandering to public fear and superstition and received wisdom; in others, false objectivity. the main force behind it all is a certain pervasive acculturation or professionalization of the press that impels journalists to write for each other and not for the audience or the public; that nudges reporters to cozy up to sources and become part of the power structure they were meant to critique. it’s the force the compels journalists to get on the bus, and the social pressure that makes them snicker in cynical unison once they’re proudly ensconced there.
i think here of william whyte’s famous book the organization man.
the only solution, of course (as huffpo is so admirably is doing) is to avoid the bus, leave the pack, live among the people you’re covering, and use every tool at your disposal to find the truth.