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The death of news

News – of the investigative journalist variety that helped launch Nixon to even greater fame – has been said to be the real casualty of the development of amateur news. I’ve heard this argument several times over the last few years, but a recent article captures the sentiment best:

But the real problem isn’t that newspapers may be doomed. I would be severely disheartened if I was forced to abandon my morning ritual of sitting on my deck with a coffee and the papers, but I would no doubt get used to burning out my retinas over the screen an hour earlier than usual. As Nation columnist Eric Alterman recently argued, the real problem isn’t the impending death of newspapers, but the impending death of news — at least news as we know it.

What is really threatened by the decline of newspapers and the related rise of online media is reporting — on-the-ground reporting by trained journalists who know the subject, have developed sources on all sides, strive for objectivity and are working with editors who check their facts, steer them in the right direction and are a further check against unwarranted assumptions, sloppy thinking and reporting, and conscious or unconscious bias.

This discussion has the same underlying fear that we see in educational reform: but how can people be informed without experts? Can amateurs do what experts do? Can society function without any sense of privilege applied to certain “keepers and disseminaters” of information? It’s a tricky question. First, it assumes that knowing in abundant information environments can be managed by the same model as knowing in scarce information climates. Secondly, it assumes that it’s an “either/or” question, not one with gradients. Thirdly, it assumes that most people won’t figure things out on their own without some type of guidance.
Somehow, we must retain the value of expert-levels of knowing while facing the reality that knowing is increasingly networked, with reduced prominence applied to experts (i.e. the expert becomes a node among others, not the central hub).

4 Comments

  1. glen wrote:

    I would love to believe that I could be better informed by considering the opinion of experts however it seems that the experts, particularly those in the media have made a science out of deceiving their viewers.

    An illustrative quote from a recently publish paper

    Stocking, S. H., & Holstein, L. (2009). Manufacturing doubt: Journalists’ roles and the construction of ignorance in a scientific controversy. Public Understanding of Science, 18(1), 23-42. doi: 10.1177/0963662507079373.

    “Most research in mass communication has
    instead found journalism to be profoundly conservative in support of existing power structures
    and the status quo (Shah, 1994; Hallin, 1986; Gitlin, 1980; Gans, 1980).”

    Thursday, February 19, 2009 at 1:25 pm | Permalink
  2. Ruth Howard wrote:

    I’m understanding that the crowd votes for who’s opinion is worth listening to…will we become wiser without controlled media reports? I do believe so I think this social media phenomena is part of a shakeup.

    I feel that what is ACTUALLY happening now is the death of a way of being on this planet. The demise of western capitalism,education, the environment for instance is so shocking that I notice everywhere humans are reflecting what it means to be human.

    And really forced to see the mistaken identifications with say money in particular forms (I dont mean money itself),our relationship with Earth, God, children, each other and our mistaken reliance on others to make decisions without accountability-still!

    Like Glen I too have the view that media reporting is not impartial as sophisticated as journalism truly is. It too deserves to be under this shake up. We all do, we all are, not as punishment but just accountability. A growing up, the old ways are no longer working, we dont want them to work.

    To quote Ralph Blum in The Book of Runes
    “The Rune Inguz. You may be required to free yourself …from some deep cultural or behavioral pattern, some activity that was quite proper to the self you are leaving behind. The period at or just before birth is often a dangerous one. Movement involves danger yet movement that is timely leads out of danger. Now is the time to enter the delivery room.

    One of the Cycle Runes, Inguz counsels preparation. Being centered and grounded, freeing yourself from all unwanted influences, and seeing the humor, you are indeed prepared to open yourself to the Will of Heaven, and can await your deliverance with calm certainty.”

    Thank you George for your own contribution to that which is still being birthed…a new way of being human.

    Thursday, February 26, 2009 at 3:20 am | Permalink
  3. Geoff Cain wrote:

    What I find funny about the argument that news is too important to be left to the people is that the professional news people have let themselves be compromised to such a degree that no one trusts them anymore. Both Bush I and II were very vindictive to the press, and if you did not play their game, you were cut out. Haliburton, “embedded” journalists, and non-existent WMDs were more nails in the coffin. What ever fairy tale the govt. trotted out, the press followed merrily along with “exclusive access.” Embedded journalists could tell you everything except what was going on and the govt. had the press right where they wanted them. How can you possibly hope to “have developed sources on all sides” and “strive for objectivity” when you are being managed and spoon-fed by the military? Who is going to help the editors “check against unwarranted assumptions” when the commercial stakes in news are so high? One sign that the internet and cell phones are tools of change is that those in power (China, for instance) struggle so hard to manage them.

    Thursday, February 26, 2009 at 11:49 am | Permalink
  4. Ulop O'Taat wrote:

    Poppycock, I say!

    There are at least two other issues here: information and interpretation. Journalism is an interpretive art, not just a factual regurgitation of witnessed phenomena. Journalism is value-added, and truth is relative to the beholder and teller thereof.

    You would always rather the witness of an untrained amateur, than a trained professional? You don’t really believe that an expert node will have less weight than that amateur, do you?

    Thursday, February 26, 2009 at 5:58 pm | Permalink