The “End” of Journalism?

It’s a regular discussion of mine, but I don’t think I’ve ever posted about it on this blog. On my hockey blog, I posted the other day about sports journalism, however, and a Globe and Mail article brought forth many thoughts as I read it today. The article, entitled “I’m not blogging this, mark my words”, is a journalist’s version of the apocalypse:

The unofficial end to journalism as I know it may have come earlier this week, when my Globe and Mail sporty colleague Matt Sekeres and I were at the triathlon venue in the north end of the city, waiting for the event to start.

[…]

The race was about an hour away when young Mr. Sekeres said the five words I have most come to dread: “I’m going to blog this.”

[…]

Mr. Sekeres wrote three paragraphs about the excellent weather, the setting and that soon he and I would be heading down to the race course. The headline read, “Under Thatch with Blatch.”

I’m not sure if my hair burst into flames, but I wanted to burn something down.

Mr. Sekeres is a fine writer and engaging company. This isn’t about him. He was merely doing what everyone – from paid professional writer to Olympian to the average guy in the stands – does now. He was committing his most idle thoughts and mundane observations if not to paper, then to its modern equivalent, a blog.

The author of the article, Christie Blatchford, is one of the few journalists who actually wrote out these thoughts. But I’m certain that a number of old-style journalists have these same thoughts regarding blogs.

Let’s face it. Although we can fault some people for being too close-minded to the idea of blogging, something really has been lost. I’ve grown up in an era where rapid-fire internet journalism has become the norm. I’m really too young to understand the world of investigative journalism that was once flourishing in North America. But when I watch documentaries on Nixon’s fall, or read about Alan Eagleson’s demise (the subject about which I posted on my blog), I can’t help but feel a pang of non-existent nostalgia.

I particularly liked one of the later paragraphs in the Globe and Mail article:

It is not true that anyone can write. It is not true that anyone can write on deadline. It is not true that anyone can do an interview. It is not true that anyone can edit themselves and sort wheat from chaff. It is not true that even great productive writers like The Globe’s Jim Christie or Ms. DiManno or Mr. Farber can hit a home run every time they sit before the laptop. But the odds of them doing it are greatly increased if they haven’t already filed 1,200 words to the Web, shot a video, done a podcast and blogged ferociously all day long. [emphasis added]

There is no way that we are getting the same quality of news when everyone thinks they’re a journalist. Nor are we getting the same quality of writing from those who are journalists, when they have to post so many thoughts in a day that they inevitably run dry. The 24-hour deadline on stories is detrimental to any sort of news depth, and I think that people generally distrust the media as a result.

I’m not fighting blogging. I really don’t think that Cristie is, either. There are definitely good blogs — and good bloggers — out there. But the fact that everyone has to be a blogger — that investigative journalism in and of itself is a lost art — is a pity. That’s one of the main reasons I’ve been turned off of the idea of being a political journalist, myself. Because I’ve faced facts long ago and realized I’m not a great blogger. It’s one of the reasons I appreciate my dad’s offer to let me join him on this blog. He’s a far better — and more consistent — blogger than I am. I don’t come up with thoughts worth writing every day, and when I don’t have anything worth writing, I don’t write.

Apparently journalists are expected to do otherwise.

In that, I think both Christie and I agree in our hope that blogging as the sole mode of writing is a fad, and nothing more!

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10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. juggling mother
    Aug 21, 2008 @ 09:36:46

    there are still some fantastic investigative journalists out there in TV documentary land… The BBC regularly has expose’s that some poor bloke (non-gender-specific) has been workinh in undercover for the past five years.

    Maybe you need the licence fee/public information situation for it to happen tho – I don’t think the commercial stations do as well, athough Sky sometimes comes up trumps.

    I think blogs fulfill a different role to journalism. A complementary one, but quite, quite different.

    Reply

  2. Stephen
    Aug 22, 2008 @ 09:44:45

    I don’t think that the mainstream media will die out entirely. The trouble is, how will they finance their operations? If everyone can get the news for free online, how does the New York Times station journalists in various cities of the world, or dedicate a journalist to flying around the country covering the McCain campaign?

    (McCain’s campaign has asked media organizations to set aside $50,000 credit per month to cover their share of expenses.)

    Juggling Mother is right, there are (at least potentially) two different roles here. The mainstream media should be playing more of an investigative role and, I would argue, a reflective role. Blogging, on the other hand, tends to be very knee-jerk reflexive writing. Instantaneous reax.

    I know bloggers can reflect, too — it’s what I try to do. But if I take Andrew Sullivan as my model, blogging features something in the neighbourhood of 25 posts per day, more or less like my dog chases squirrels. “There’s one!” (ten seconds later) “There’s another one!”

    The mainstream media have, to a significant extent, abrogated their role. Tabloid journalism and all that. I think we need fewer media outlets which concentrate more on “serious” journalism.

    We’re still getting some of that, but we’re also getting a lot of partisan posturing that is better consigned to the blogosphere. E.g., Fox hiring Karl Rove, and the New York Times hiring Bill Kristol. Ugh!

    Reply

  3. Bill
    Aug 22, 2008 @ 13:11:48

    This is an interesting article and shows how economics and the media are related, and proves Marshall McLuhan to be right.

    —Economics —

    When I write about economics I do not monetary economics but pure economics that is the science of how we make choices.

    The Pew Research centre for People and the Press is a good source of Data on the changing altitudes to the press it can be found at http://people-press.org/

    They sponsored a report in 2004 on the way people access their news one good thing they noted was that the increased use of the internet was actually increasing news readership. The shift in the way news is reported and consumed is the issue as much as anything else, and who pays is also a concern. In the past as now the user really did not pay for his news but for the paper it was printed on. When I was studying Journalism in 1982 (dropped out) one of the first things we were told was that subscriptions paid for just the paper, advertising paid for the news. Thus internet news is paid for by the advertisers an a cost to the subscriber is hardly needed. Economically the cost of internet advertizing should rise as the demand for news goes up.

    The report however does mention that the growing audience is questioning the credibility of the online news because of the larger amount of conflicting data available. The problem is that they are questioning all sources of news even the big news media outlets .This is partially because of Blogs and also people are being influenced by biassed news like what comes out of Fox at the moment. As people begin to realise that not everything they see on the computer screen is valid the way they read will change and hopefully the standard media will be chosen as the better source.

    No insult to Bloggers and this is a generalisation which means it does not hold true in all cases but you tend to get better work when your paid to do it. Currently what income you get from Blogging if any would hardly sustain people. That said, if it does are you crossing the border between Bloggging and reporting?

    Economically we decide what value we place on something based on its value to us, we pay in this case not by money but with our time. The PEW report needs to be taken one step farther and differentiate between Blogs and all online media. That said print in general will eventually change even today Amazon is selling an E-book reader and novels online. That is not to say that paper media will change over anytime soon but looking generations ahead we will see a new E Media that will look and feel very different from that we see today.

    —Marshall McLuhan —

    I like how your article has highlighted how not only the medium but the message has changed. As Marshall McLuhan, wrote in Understanding Media, “the medium is the message” which became known as the McLuhan Equation.

    The best interpretation of this is by Mark Federman Chief Strategist at the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology he states:
    “Whenever we create a new innovation – be it an invention or a new idea – many of its properties are fairly obvious to us. We generally know what it will nominally do, or at least what it is intended to do, and what it might replace. We often know what its advantages and disadvantages might be. But it is also often the case that, after a long period of time and experience with the new innovation, we look backward and realize that there were some effects of which we were entirely unaware at the outset. We sometimes call these effects “unintended consequences,” although “unanticipated consequences” might be a more accurate description. . . . McLuhan tells us that a “message” is, “the change of scale or pace or pattern” that a new invention or innovation “introduces into human affairs.”

    Blogging as this article seems to highlight is a good example of this equation at work.

    Reply

  4. billarends
    Aug 22, 2008 @ 13:52:34

    nebcanuck – Just to let you know I posted a segment of this comment on The Art of The Rant, I hope you don’t mind.

    Reply

  5. nebcanuck
    Aug 22, 2008 @ 17:37:15

    Bill: The cross post/comment is fine by me 🙂 .

    General:

    I think that the thought that both should be held separate is an excellent point, and is perhaps the cause of this thought by Bill:

    The problem is that they are questioning all sources of news even the big news media outlets .This is partially because of Blogs and also people are being influenced by biassed news like what comes out of Fox at the moment.

    How can you not question the big media outlets when they are bowing to the demand for more news, faster, and become thus less reliable? Though I agree with Stephen that mainstream media won’t likely die out entirely, I question whether that’s equally valid when referring to “investigative journalism.” How often do you actually see a single journalist — or a pair, perhaps — working on a single story for more than a day? A week? A month?

    In today’s terms, having someone tied in to one story for a month would be like asking someone to dedicate their life to a story 25 years ago.

    It’s cool to hear that the BBC has some of that still going on. Perhaps across the ocean, the BBC is one of the more turned-to news stations. But I certainly have never associated them with the other mainstream channels — in this case, Fox, CNN, CBC (in Canada), etc.. I guess I would have to pull up some official chart to say so, but my guess would be that few enough people turn to the BBC for regular updates on the world.

    And it really does come down to the advertising factor. It’s a deadly cycle. Somewhere along the line, someone decided to speed up the news cycle. Viewers liked it, and so it sped up more. The speedier it got, the more the viewers got accustomed to it. Now it seems that to slow down the news cycle would cost a company most of its viewers, which ultimately destroys the chances of any substantial change.

    I wish it were the case that journalism and blogging were kept fairly separate. But now, as the article suggests, the line between the two is thinning. And I’m not sure I’m optimistic enough to shrug and say “ah well, journalism will survive.”

    Reply

  6. Stephen
    Aug 22, 2008 @ 18:23:18

    My assumption is based on the economics “supply and demand” model. If there is public demand for “serious” journalism, it will survive by one means or another.

    And I think the demand is there. But: (a) there are too many newspapers and sources of TV news, and they won’t all survive in light of the competition from the internet; and (b) the mainstream media are chasing after tabloid and bloggy street cred, instead of focusing on their true market niche — “serious” investigative and/or reflective journalism.

    My prediction that journalism will survive is based on the premise that the media will eventually adapt, or evolve in a survival-of-the-fittest fashion, and supply what the people are actually demanding.

    Reply

  7. Stephen
    Aug 22, 2008 @ 18:50:34

    Does the MSM do investigative reporting anymore? Coincidentally, I just came across an example that makes my point very nicely. Glenn Greenwald writes:

    When it comes to garden-variety, relatively banal crimes that have some tawdry aspect, the establishment media will investigate them endlessly. The same Washington Post that has spent weeks mindlessly reciting Government claims about the anthrax attacks just completed a 12-part series on the Chandra Levy case, in which — as the Post itself proudly announced — its reporters “were assigned to produce an in-depth reconstruction of the case that would reexamine all avenues of the investigation.”

    Greenwald would like to see the Post (and other MSM organizations) investigate the anthrax attacks case, since (at least in Greenwald’s opinion) there is some doubt that the FBI has identified the actual perpetrator. Instead, the Post is dedicating its investigative resources to the Chandra Levy case. Levy was a curvaceous Washington intern who was having an affair with a Congressman; Levy’s murder is still unsolved.

    So, yes, the MSM still does investigative journalism — albeit in a tabloidy sort of way.

    Reply

  8. nebcanuck
    Aug 22, 2008 @ 19:28:40

    I’m curious as to the contrast between the establishment and the individual when it comes to Investigative Journalism.

    When I say the term, I am envisioning an individual being assigned to focus on an issue, to hunt down interviews and information, and really to seek the truth in the story, with updates printed once in a while.

    On the other hand, I suppose it does count as investigative for the Post to assign a number of reporters to keep track of a story. One example that jumps to mind is the Khadr issue, which has been covered each step of the way in the Globe and Mail.

    However, I’m not sure it is really what I would consider Investigative, if only because the people focusing on the issue change, and because those assigned go ahead and cover a number of other topics in the meantime. When Olympic journalists are given the task of blogging casually about a billion different events, they can’t really use their specialized knowledge of a particular sport. Similarly, a journalist can’t really Investigate the way the term suggests to me if they are but one of a team of people who are responsible for updating constantly on a number of different issues.

    Perhaps that’s why the tabloidy fashion is the only way they cover a story in-depth: Because no one knows it all that well!

    Reply

  9. Bill
    Aug 23, 2008 @ 02:47:42

    Even in the era of Woodward and the Washington Posts break of the Watergate Scandal, there were more journalists writing quick stuff. What is lacking today may not be influence entirely by speed as by the narrowed attention span of the reader with much more to take in. Even in the 70’s before the internet newspapers had moved from Broadsheet format to Tabloid sized formats even the Globe and mail is half what it was. News articles were reduced to a quarter of their content. In my half year at loyalist college the student newspaper was shrunk to a tabloid size, and the reasoning was that newspapers should be no larger than a person could easily read on the bus.

    Reply

  10. Bill
    Aug 23, 2008 @ 02:56:48

    That said One edge the the established media has over Blogs and such is being on the inside of most info. I get E-copies of several newspapers one being (my favorite US paper as you might guess) the Washington Post and as it is now after two in the morning and I was about to stop Blogging I went to read my mail one last time. The post just sent an E-mail at 1:48 am stating Obama had chosen Biden as his running mate (no surprise there)

    Reply

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