Thursday, April 30, 2009


Is traditional journalism in danger as a profession? Oh come on.

Maureen Dowd's interview of Twitter founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams came to my attention when it was mentioned on Twooting podcast #28. When the observation was posed that her tone seemed angry or jealous or that the satire therein was pointed for a real reason and that it might be because traditional print journalism has been on a long decline and that Twitter is yet another threat on top of the myriad of other social media, the wheels really started ticking in my brain.

Here's the thing. There is a huge difference in professional journalism and people just yapping whatever pops into their brain, and I find it difficult to believe that any form of social media will ever replace the professional journalist.

My History with Journalism
I used to want to be a journalist when I grew up. Remember the board game "Life"? I loved that game. You got to have a career, get married, have kids, make money and have stuff happen to you. (Wow. It sounds so underwhelming now that I'm an adult.) But as a kid, the word "journalist" sounded so big and important.

I didn't know what a journalist was back then, but as it happens, I love to write. I have loved to write from the very first time I picked up a pencil. I wrote a lengthy grumpy note to my teacher in 2nd grade that so impressed her with my writing, she showed it to my mother (but of course I still had to get swats for being disrespectful). Mom told me about it years later after I was out of school.

Even after I found out the definition of journalism years later, I did consider it as a potential career, until I realized that being a journalist would mean writing about a lot of things that really did not interest me.

I have been writing on a near daily basis as long as I can remember, my writing progressing from fervent pre-teen love poems to lengthy diaries to newspaper articles in high school and editorials whenever I got to rotate in, and then transitioning to forums in the mid 1990's. If I'm not posting a blog article, then I'm posting something on a forum somewhere. I truly enjoy putting words together to make a point (which I will get to in this horribly rambling post I'm writing now).

So now I do function as a semi-journalist, but only as a hobbyist - I don't get paid, but I do write about what's going on around me. This very enjoyable hobby of mine has evolved into a personal editorial page for me; my very own megaphone wherewith to expound my thoughts that I would otherwise keep entirely to myself. And in that sense, blogging is a form of journalism, but I can say whatever I want with little or no repercussion and without being questioned.

Bloggers Are Not Always Credible
And therein lies the problem with lay journalists: bloggers are not generally held accountable for lack of credible sources, and while those who don't follow some sort of standard are quickly overlooked and lost to oblivion or ridicule, they still can pump out as much misinformation or just plain boring crap as they feel inclined.

Professional Journalists are the Ones Who Stamp News as Credible
And so many other persons like me also put forth their thoughts every day onto this big thing called the internet. And we all do it for free, whether anyone is listening or not. The flow of misinformation out there is overwhelming, and surely we still need professional media to sift through it all and bring us the cream of the crop, the kernels of truth, to root out what is true and right and virtuous (uh, oh, pardon me, I seem to have gotten mixed up with some other century's journalistic credo).

Really, I would think a pro journalist would find Twitter a boon rather than a curse. True there's a ton of crap on it, but you have to not look at the public timeline: just think of the hundreds of sources. It's simple enough to search and filter the tweets using third party applications and then qualify your sources the old-fashioned way. Maybe it's just annoying because news tips used to only come from a few folks who were vocal. There was a system - a tipster would call in and the reporter would follow up if it sounded interesting. If no one was calling, the reporter would go out and about and listen to local conversation for interesting leads. It's been that way for a century.

And now with all this huge flood of social media, with anyone being able to post to the internet, there is a giant flood of conversation for reporters to listen in on. Overwhelming amounts. The less vocal folks (like me) that speak very little may give you a tip via Twitter or email that you wouldn't have ordinarily gotten, because we aren't the type to use the phone, but we'll sure use the computer.

It's All About Money
The real rub for the print reporters is money and job security. So print journalists probably really do feel threatened by the internet and social media as subscription money drops off. Can the big name papers make as much money off their internet ads as they could off print paper subscriptions and purchases? While everyone looks for free content on the internet now, supported soley by advertising, the paper industry surely can save a ton of money if they transition away from paper and delivery. No ink, no presses, all their revenue fueled by advertisements, and they have the big name already, who's going to argue that there's not value in advertising on the NYT's online paper? With handheld devices, a person can hold their paper and read it at the table with coffee just the same as they held a newspaper printed on wood pulp. There's multiple ways to solve this monetary problem.

We still need professional media types. The public needs to be able to rely on their professional reputations for believable news sourcing. Professional journalism trumps random gossip any day, no matter how prolific. Someone must sort through and find the truth amongst all the chatter. Who better than the former print reporters? Yes, it takes some transitioning, some adjustment. But come on, get with the times, folks. The internet is not going away. Step up or die.

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