Saturday, October 08, 2005
Terry Heaton, writing for the September issue of the Digital Journalist, explores the incredible challenges faced by traditional journalists in TV News in a Postmodern World: Chaos at the Door. Heaton used the occasion of a meeting of a Journalism “think tank” that met at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana last week to make some important observations.
Heaton makes a very convincing argument that this isn’t a simple problem for media. Not one that will be meaningfully addressed by old time reporters sitting through a seminar or two, or an added “New Media” class in the curricula, or getting a youngster to sit down and teach the old dog a few new tricks.
The dramatic, incredible expanse of information distribution has changed everything. Really.
Heaton quotes Democratic strategist Joe Trippi in making his assertion, who can be credited for a lot of things, not least creating a false impression on the part of some Democrats that getting people’s attention online would necessarily translate into getting them out into the streets (or for that matter into voting booths). In this instance, though, Trippi is right on the money:
If information is power, then the Internet, which distributes information democratically to anyone who has access to it, is no longer distributing just information — it's distributing power.Heaton expands on Trippi’s conclusion:
And in a top-down society, it's empowering the bottom. Put more simply-in America, it's empowering the American people.
And the paradox of power is that discontent increases with opportunities for acting on it. The more the bottom is given the tools to make and distribute their own media, the greater their power; the greater their power, the greater their discontent and, along with it, the opportunity for acting on that discontent. This bubbling caldron of energy is profoundly anti-elitist and anti-institution, because the more the bottom surveys the landscape these days, the more they realize that our culture has failed them, and this energy is palpable in the halls of power.We see this clearly in the Blogosphere. We need to pause and reflect on the dramatic changes, just in the past two or three years. Think of the blog-swarms, the feeding frenzy more rapid, more open, more accessible and more readily distributable: Rathergate and the fake but accurate memo, Jordan-Gate and all the reporting that took place because of live blogging, without any transcript or video recording. Consider the power of the Swift Boat vets and their alternate media assault on the media stonewall against alternate narrative’s on Kerry’s record (still not open to inspection, one might add). Add as epilog the new developments of Pajamas Media or Porkbusters.
Conservatives long complained about an activist judiciary, and agenda-driven (as opposed to “objective” journalism). Did we get a peak at the opposition’s playbook? Now, conservative voices proliferate on alternate medias, and in many ways run circles around those political opponents who rely of their traditional media (and their traditional friends). Talk about a role reversal.
Heatons’ prescription for aging journalists who want to remain relevant (and a working part of their profession):
That's why it's important for mid-career journalists to get their hands dirty in using the technology of the personal media revolution instead of thinking about how and where to learn about it. Become a "doer" of the word instead of a "hearer" only. Learning is always accelerated by experience, so those who feel their careers slipping away need to get involved. Start a blog. Build a Web page. Pick up a camera. Play a video game. Get close to young people who are comfortable using technology, and ask questions. Read a book, or better yet, go online and look around for tutorials. They're everywhere. Most of all, don't let fear get in the way. It's only technology. DO something!Or not. And continue the slide into irrelevance.
H/T Instapundit, who himself tips the hat to Joe Trippi
…And a Contrast
Jay Rosen at PressThink generates a similar discussion about the role of journalism in the context of Team Miller and “Judy Miller’s New York Times.”
The context for Rosen’s reflection was the realization that he no longer considered The New York Times the “the greatest newspaper in the land. Nor is it the base line for the public narrative that it once was.” Better late than never I suppose. All but the most recalcitrant left are on board, I would think.
In the case of Judith Miller, Rosen is merciless in pinning Miller, and by neglect, the Times, for failing their journalistic responsibilities (and I would say their public trust). Miller and her Times have failed their profession:
From what I understand of the code that binds reporters, if you have big news because it happens you are a participant in the news, then you phone the desk because you think of your colleagues and they deserve the scoop. Of course you answer questions from the press when it’s time for that because you’re a source and they can’t write their stories without you. You behave with an awareness that you’re usually in their position, trying to squeeze information out of harried people, who sometimes just want to go home and have a quiet meal. You remain a journalist, even though you have to operate as a source, and defend your interests.One might say, not only have traditional journalists failed to keep pace technologically, but they’ve neglected the ethical and moral framework that, theoretically at least, warranted the presses inclusion in a perceived societal (fourth) estate. You might argue this was always thus. Murrow was a cad and a fool who fell into irrelevance as he ponied up to Hollywood elites. Cronkite was as transfixed by televised war as his horrified audience, and unable to maintain perspective. Woodward and Bernstein paved the way for the “fake but accurate” philosophy that justified bartering off objectivity and truth.
Judy Miller has behaved like she understood not one word of this.
Still. Once upon a time, The Reporter -- many more times than Conservatives may want to admit -- has earned public trust by dogged persistence and force of will and untiring commitment to the public good. Like many of us, I grew up on the legends of Watergate, and the heroic struggles of getting the truth out. Short of perhaps Claudia Rosett and the UN Oil for Food scandal, when have we seen the likes of the former legends?
Miller and her defenders (backed by the NY Times Publisher and Editorial Staff) have created a very unconvincing narrative for her sojourn in jail, but, as Rosen points out, “That’s Judy’s story and she will stick to it.”
Rosen’s conclusion near damns the Times:
Whether the Times can free itself, remember its loyalty to readers, and tell the larger story that incorporates and corrects hers is… totally unclear. Frankly, the organization may not be up to it. But this doesn’t matter to what I said at the start. There’s a new flagship paper, and just as the Times needed the Post to steam alongside and challenge it, the Post will need a strong New York Times to remain true.Or not. That much more room for the New Journalists.
So I hope it goes back to being the New York Times one day soon.
Links: Basil's Blog, Jo's Cafe, Outside the Beltway, Wizbang, bRight & Early
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