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The Changing Face

Of Journalism

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An old time reporter's desk probably inspired a bit more community love. Images by Glen Edelson and Beth Rankin and used under the terms of a Creative Commons license.
From The Amalgam Of J-Schools, Newspapers, Magazines, Websites And Blogs Comes A New Paradigm For Journalism: Ambivalence Towards Community

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By Wayne Schutsky
Modern Times Magazine

July 19, 2012 — Journalism is changing.

That statement, while a drastic oversimplification, is something that society, and the industry itself, must recognize if it has any hope of fostering a lasting, beneficial news-delivery system.

Newspapers and news organizations cannot simply maintain a twitter account, stream some live video and/or add a blog here and there. That is not the change I am talking about. These few developments will not stave off the seemingly inevitable future that faces the news media where “coverage” is dominated by an amateurish amalgamation of blog posts and hate-mongering talking heads who appeal to the least common denominator on both sides of the aisle.

Rather, the change that the industry needs is nothing short of a complete overhaul of its current value system and the way it sees itself in relation to its viewership.

However, that inevitable change does not mean that journalism is going to become something unrecognizable in the near future.

If we hope to save the news as an essential tool of openness and democratization — as a way to level the playing field through access to information — we must dig deep into the past while looking towards the future. The resulting creation will look a lot like journalism of the past, with a few new technologies thrown into the mix.

As cliché as this notion (of a return to the roots) sounds, it is not exactly a widely held belief. In an age where journalism has become a hierarchical club populated by an elitist few, I am proposing that we shed the titles and ego that have become far too associated with the profession by utilizing the equalizing aspects of new media in an effort to return to the virtues of old media.

In a sense, journalism today, as a profession, has become lazy and vain. Sure, there are hardworking and dedicated reporters out there today, putting everything on the line to bring quality and unbiased coverage to the masses. But for every reporter like Marie Colvin there are a hundred Janet Cookes.

The problem is systematic and industry-wide and starts in education.

Journalism schools fluff egos and promote the idea that their students are entering a privileged club. Instead of reminding students that this is a thankless, but worthwhile, job that needs to be done right in order to serve its purpose, these journalism schools glorify celebrity and teach the young that it is more important to be seen than heard. It doesn’t matter what you are saying, as long as it draws attention.

In journalism school today, a student will learn just as much about traversing the politics of the industry, as they will about actual reporting. I write from experience.

I had an actual lecturer (who was a former journalist and current media relations professional) who told the class that we could learn more about our chosen profession in the classroom than out of it.

Any person who has tried to make a go of it in this industry knows that a sentiment like that, while patently untrue, is also dangerous. When a “seasoned veteran” tells a group of fledgling reporters that theory and scenarios will teach them more about the job than just going out and doing, they believe her.

And journalism dies a little bit inside.

Because the only way to learn how to report on, and construct a story is to go out and do it.

From my experience, there are some students who could not find the most important facts in a sample story for the life of them, but put them in a press conference and something clicks on and they get it.

On the other end, I have seen students ace every news quiz during the semester and then shit the bed when the editor at their internship asks them to interview a youth football coach.

You never know if you can do something until you try. Some reporters are great writers and some are great fact finders and most are just pretty decent at both; but until you try to put both of those skills to use simultaneously in a real environment, with no safety net, you will never know.

And no $80 textbook will convince me otherwise.

And that is the problem with journalism school. It teaches young reporters the wrong value system from the start. They learn to glorify and trust a bunch of professors and lecturers who spend as much time brandishing their resume as they do teaching.

But the journalism school problem is really only a symptom of a larger epidemic that is sucking the life out of journalism.

Journalism schools teach this way because it is what the industry leaders are asking for.

Instead of seeking out hardworking individuals with a passion for storytelling, major news organizations are looking for the next big personality to pull in ratings and readership.

Underneath those celebrated few, these organizations are looking to fill the ranks with cheap drones who can write four graphs on the latest breaking news without doing enough real reporting to justify a pay raise. Meanwhile, talented veteran reporters, many of whom would serve as great mentors to new journalists, are falling by the wayside through cutbacks and layoffs while talentless kids with a journalism school education take their job for minimum wage.

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