The Cyberbrains

Research and contemplation in new media

What matters, journalist?

I awoke at 3:30 a.m. Tuesday to catch a two-hour ride in a crammed and noisy shuttle. Then I sat in a tiny commuter jet seat all the way to the hubbub of Washington, D.C.

Clyde Bentley at Journalism that Matters

All so I could face an impossible question: What happens when all that’s left is the journalism?

While I was tempted to say “you hear the sound of one hand clapping” and take a nap, this was serious business. Nearly 150 folks ranging from editors of large newspapers to strident bloggers to just curious individuals were called to a hall at George Washington University to ponder the fate of a journalism tradition that is seeing its economic base shrivel in the heat of Internet competition. It is part of a series of discussions called Journalism that Matters.

The crowd is also large because it was timed as a “pre” event for the annual conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications. That’s a four-day thinkfest for people who are supposed to know better than to go to Washington, D.C. in August.

The rest of my week will be filled with standard professor fare, but today I will step out of my comfort zone to see what is left of my future. The Journalism That Matters group uses Native American wind-blowing circles, Buddhist bell chimes and other New Wave techniques that grizzled guys like me make jokes about. I write, I don’t meditate.

But when times get tough, a wise journalist will swim toward any life ring offered. And times are tough. Newspapers may still be profitable, but both readers and advertisers are slipping away. Ditto broadcast TV.

That would not be so bad if we could shut down the presses and just go online, but the logistical and cultural challenges so far have not let Web advertising pay the bills.

So what? Just kill the media corporations and let bloggers and citizen journalist take over.

That sentiment is fairly common, I found in the initial discussions. From my jaundices perspective, however, it is overly simplistic. I work each week with dedicated-but-everyday people who want to share their lives and their stories on the MyMissourian citizen journalism site. But those same generous souls don’t clearly don’t want to be journalists in the traditional sense of the word. Few people want to sit through the zoning board meeting each week or scour mind-numbing court records unless they are paid to do it.

Professional news reporters – and particularly small town newspaper reporters – are the plankton of the media world. Thousands of them float through our society gathering and redistributing the often-boring information that is vital to society. Most “news” blogs, TV spots and even magazine stories can be traced back to information first gathered by some low-profile reporter pounding the beat. The non pros get the fun job – commenting. Take the ad revenue from newspapers and all you have left is the journalism fighting to provide fodder for commentary.

Or so I tell myself and anyone else who will listen.

As much as I resisted it, though, the head-nodding circles and small group encounters that started Journalism that Matters spawned a painful epiphany last night:

I may be wrong.

Today I will listen and try to talk less. I need to know what future others hold for my chosen profession. I need to find the rightness in their “wrong” ideas.

But I draw the line at group hugs…

August 8, 2007 - Posted by | Clyde Bentley

1 Comment »

  1. […] Journalism That Matters begins. There are a couple of good reports from the Journalism That Matters gathering that’s going on in Washington. The title link is to Len Witt’s blogging of the opening day. See also Clyde Bentley’s post, What matters, journalist?. […]

    Pingback by Notes from a Teacher: Mark on Media » Wednesday squibs | August 8, 2007 | Reply

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