The other day I wrote about David Simon's comments to Congress on the Future of Journalism. The particular facet I was considering was his blithe blow-off comments about bloggers and the assumption that anyone who writes on a blog that concerns news or events is always recycling what appears elsewhere. AS IF newspapers didn't do that. AS IF even the AP service quite often isn't a recycle of articles they saw and want to repackage. AS IF there aren't editorials or *fun* columnists for filler. AS IF no one that is a citizen ever attends local govenrment meetings and writes or talks about them, EXCEPT through a newspaper or other media.
And, I saw Brains and Eggs today and was reminded of something else. AS IF newspapers NOW hold public figures to account. Enough about how newspapers (I leave out television entirely as it is very far, in most cases, from being journalism, except for shows like Frontline or Jim Lehrer, etc) are some kind of standards beacon that, if they fall, will imperil the country and cause leaders to suddenly run rampant. Um, the leaders ALREADY ARE OUT OF THE CAGE. And a good part of that is because of actions such as the NYTimes took to squelch or hold back articles that might have given people information on who to elect. Remember how the article about how the Bush administration was illegally spying on Americans through the telecoms was prevented, by an editorial or publishing decision, before the 2nd Bush election. Remember how CBS had the Abu Ghraib photos and didn't publish them until they had to in order not to be scooped? How many articles have you read in the larger dailies that looked like rewritten press releases, that didn't specify that, gee, these are actually talking points faxed over by the White House and we want you to print them like it's true news, without any type of critical fact-checking.
Let's take a second, critical action that the papers have done. I don't remember quite when I started reading this, some years back, but the news rooms began cutting back on investigative reporters. Instead of newspapers being the 4th estate, they began to be thought of by their corporate owners as vehicles for profit. If you don't have enough boots on the ground to actually track down and uncover the news, follow up on items that cross your desk to see how valid they are, why should any reader expect that the coverage is going to be fair and thorough? I don't mean to say that all national newspapers and big city dailies quit doing expose articles, but the nature of newspapers changed back then and more news articles became, in my opinion, the equivalent of a stenographer who copies the information, maybe changes it up a bit and then sends it out for a non-questioning public to consume. And, of course, for any given issue to get covered in the first place is an editorial decision that may be driven, at least in part, by the advertising one hopes to sell. Surely Mr Simon is not saying that this type of journalism is the pinnacle to which journalism should aspire.
One of the big elephants in the room is the idea that is now reality about those who own the printing press.When you look down through time, you see that only some were able to provide information to the masses, thus forming a journalistic priesthood, as it were. Due to illiteracy amongst the population, time to be the scribe amongst others, and then, with the Gutenberg press, the ability to publish because one was an owner of same. That's changed. Dramatically. ANYONE can be a publisher of information now. Doesn't have to mean the information is good or relevant, but then NEITHER NECESSARILY IS THE INFORMATION IN A FORMALLY RECOGNIZED MEDIA.
Let me give you an example from a personal level. I've lived here in Somervell County for around 10 years now. About 5 years ago I started to get interested in what the county and city meetings were. But for me to know when they were going to meet, or remember, required quite an effort on my part, because I am imperfect. I knew that county and city meetings are on the second Monday of each month. But knowing that isn't the same as looking on a calendar, seeing which day happens to be that day, finding out the time, and then remembering to actually go. (And that doesn't cover the times when the entities decide, for whatever reason to postpone or cancel a meeting). And since the agenda comes out on the Friday before the meeting, it isn't like I can be reminded by reading the newspaper. But I CAN be by reading an email that is sent to me that contains the agenda and is sent the Friday before the meeting. Doesn't require me, then, to get into the car, drive down to the square and look on the public notices to see IF a meeting will be held the next Monday. And also doesn't cause me to slam my forehead with my hand on the Wednesday AFTER the meeting and say Dang, I wish I'd gone!
David Simon says he never met any citizens who were not only attending meetings but writing about them. He leads a pretty sheltered life because, in fact, there are a lOT of people who do that, all over this country, and I expect the numbers will only increase as people with an interest use the ubiquitous publishing tools that are out there to share what they themselves have an interest in and are passionate about. I mean, why do we even bother to have open meetings and open records laws and acts if we don't expect the PUBLIC to use them? That is to say, there is nothing in a public records act that says that only those with the title of *journalist* can go look at how, for example, school boards are spending taxpayer money.
I see the Future of Journalism as perhaps a dying industry for those who believe that there must be a class of people who have tight controls over information and are the funnels, if you will, for what people can know. But it's NOT for those who believe that, in a democracy, anyone can find out what's going on and use publishing tools that are ubiquitous and egalitarian to share the information. And that includes those who may not be doing this as a paid job but, like anything else, as a volunteer with interests.
Don't get me wrong., I love reading the Glen Rose Reporter newspaper. But its' one thing to say that one can love a newspaper and another to wonder if people would continue to find some other available outlet for news if there were NO newspaper here locally. GRISD, because it's technologically advanced, has not only a great website but student and teacher blogs. In fact, most of the governmental entities have a website presence which I believe will only get better and better over time as high speed internet comes to our province.
We need to get out of the old gutenberg press mindset and look into the future.. which is actually NOW.