Nov 21, 2007

Nothing to fear

Although Jeff Jarvis seems a little too anxious to dance on graves, I think he gets it mostly right in his predictions about the so-called death of newspapers. It isn't the death of journalism we should be worrying about, but the death of the industry that has grown up around it.

But, Lordy, how some in the industry don't want to die alone! Journalism's best protection is to separate itself (figuratively) from the dying beast and advocate for its own survival. To do that, it must know itself.

Unfortunately, Jarvis is a too vague in defining what journalism is:
"It helps organize a community’s knowledge so that a better-informed society can accomplish the goals it sets for itself."
The same could be said of schools, archives and libraries. Journalism is a public service, I agree, but it is much more than a keen aggregater of knowledge.

(I also disagree that journalists have a responsibility to encourage or organize non-journalists to do reporting. That they take up their cameras and pens is a fine thing, but regular people have agendas and reporters aren't in the business of fostering them.)

Lamentably, Jarvis looks toward the future with too much excitement and fails to keep the past in sight. There is little point in arguing whether change will come or whether innovation is necessary, but I think protecting newsrooms from fragmenting should be a stated goal.

Over the decades, journalists organized under single, recognizable banners, toiled as a unit and strove to uphold ethics so that readers had some assurance the news could be trusted. Why, it wasn't long ago that we worried about the viral influences of Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass. Now we want to "hyperlink" to freelancers and free-range reporters who fall outside of newsroom oversight.

An experienced and cohesive newsroom can hold those in power accountable in ways that individuals often cannot, no matter how well intentioned they are. Lose that and this whole public service enterprise crumbles.

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