An Evolution From Journalism To Blogalism
It’s important to remember that what we understand journalism to be now isn’t always what journalism was, not even close, if you take it back to its green beginnings. How it is now, the format and structure of it was born of certain logistical necessities related to print, and later, broadcast; but media is changing, and in a big way, again.
The earliest journalists in America, armed with a printing press and Constitutional protection made no pretense of objectivity; in some communities, reports by today’s standards would be considered outright libelous, myopic, and sensational. The goal was then, as it always has been, to sell stories the public wanted to read.
Whether they be about rumors of witchcraft, sightings of public debauchery, or accusations of questionable lineage, the early days of journalism were often little more than unfounded and unfair gossip.
The Associated Press itself was formed to reign in the madness of competing journalists, all of them racing each other in rowboats out into New York Harbor to squeeze every last drop of Old World information from immigrants before they could even disembark into the New World. Rowboats, waves, and large ships are a deadly combination.
Unionized or not, there was still competition between newspaper magnates, names we revere today, Pulitzer and Hearst, scratching at each other with ridiculous headlines to build empires of pennies.
But eventually that madness subsided, for the better part of a century, and the news business became not only routine, but entrenched, elite, and virtually unchallenged.
Howard Owens, once himself a newspaper publisher, describes how the business of news settled itself into that certain way of doing:
We have developed “news judgement” (how important a story is) based on our need to order news within the confines of a certain package size and design.
We developed inverted pyramids both to fit wire service needs and because the nature of the print package sometimes required stories to jump, so we wanted to get the news up top.
We developed certain professional standards related to the content of the story because with mass production, we essentially had only one chance to get the story right. We had to put a premium on accuracy and fair mindedness.
But Owens goes on to say in that insightful post that times have changed, and are changing rapidly, at once progressive and regressive.
Competition between news providers is steeper than it has ever been with so many avenues for delivery; eventually radio, broadcast, and cable would step into the picture and fall in line with a certain integrity, an integrity increasingly worn thin by fragmentation of available sources, the desperation created by both too much competition on one side (the receiver side), and media consolidation on the other side (the sender side), so that as the public seeks more options, the message creators seek to whittle them down, providing fine fodder for the conspiratorial minded.
(Or maybe you haven’t heard of Rupert Murdoch and Sumner Redstone’s evil plans?)
And then you have the bloggers. Disorganized, unschooled, undisciplined, unbeholden to editor, publisher, or conglomerate, but rather, under the direction of their own conscience and the immediate response of their readers, who will and do respond immediately in the comments section, adding their own information and commentary to the fray.
An information free-for-all the world has never seen.
Thus you have the Great Media Divide. Journalists and Old Media with their pesky responsibilities, self-imposed regulations, advertiser sensitivities, and publisher/owner biases, a public that’s rather sick of it, and bloggers with nothing but what Freedom of the Press was intended for in the first place: blowing the whistle on abuses of power.
And it’s worse than that. Because Old Media has become a large chunk of said Power, it has lost much of its ability to hold Power accountable.
So how does journalism survive itself in the age of New Media? The way it has in ages past, the way everything survives: it adapts. In Owen’s aforementioned post, he recommends journalists become, or at least mirror their greatest threat.
Think, behave, report like a blogger – while, somehow, keeping with your standards and practices, your professional pedigree, your certifications, your piece of paper that says you know what you’re doing. Adopt, understand, and use the new technology before you. But above all, you must engage the audience where the audience is, and come down from your marble hill.
The dust of the Wild West settles eventually, and when it does, the successful ones will have taken the storm in stride, even added bits of it to their arsenal. The world is changed again, an you must change with it.