Last month, I wrote a guest piece for Paul Bradshaw’s Online Journalism Blog about how, sometimes, it’s really okay to give readers what they want. The piece got some interesting comments from, well, old-timers in the craft.
It’s fascinating to see how media criticism has evolved into two strands, each as committed to good journalism as the other, maybe even in agreement on some of the finer points, but each strand with way different priorities.
- The old school reads about the current state of journalism in their union newsletter, while youngsters are browsing the Nieman Journalism Lab.
- The old school complains about how we’re not covering justice and national politics the way we used to, while a new generation is upset that so many journalists look down on regional and local news. So much potential in hyperlocal.
- The old school is shocked when a journalist takes sides, while most of us will nod when Jay Rosen says that it’s only fair for journalists to be transparent about where they come from, rather than faking objectivity and pretending to be neutral when they’re not.
- The old school laments the decline of investigative journalism, while the new school is thinking up new ways to hold people in power accountable , and to catch them when they’re lying.
- The old school would wish the government intervenes to support quality journalism, whereas we’d rather win the support of our fellow citizens through Spot.Us and Kickstarter.
- The old school regularly reminds us that our readers are stupid, whereas the internet generation knows that our obsessive focus on breaking news is hardly congenial to people who wish to understand the broader issues facing our society.
- The old school thinks good journalism is dying. The new school thinks news has become a commodity.
- The old school will cite Thomas Jefferson, who said “were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate for a moment to prefer the latter” — younger journalists, instead, will wonder whether newspapers still have an important role to play in society, whether they can make or break politicians now that so few people still trust the press.
- The old school just wishes there was more money to go round, whereas those new to the newsroom doubt if money would solve anything. They’ve seen their bosses throw money out of the window; they know we fail to act on lucrative opportunities time and again.
There’s wisdom in both strands of media criticism, but sometimes I can’t help but feel the old school hankers for a mythical past of journalistic excellence that never existed.
With that thought, I’m off to EJC’s Data-driven Journalism roundtable in Amsterdam. I’ll report back soon.