By Alex Corey
Every day, you see stories wailing about the death of journalism, about newspapers shedding jobs or closing their doors.
So is journalism dead? Or is it a phoenix, dwindling close to the end of its life points only to come back bigger, faster and stronger?
The rise of citizen-journalists
A big part of the revival of journalism will involve citizen-journalists. Billions of people around the world are now portable news production studios, with every iPhone and Droid giving them the power to shoot photos or video and share breaking news with the world.
The negative side of this trend is quality control. Journalists have editors. There’s no editing involved with hitting the share button on your phone, leading to the very possibility of words, photos and video that simply stink up the joint, and wouldn’t have seen the light of day at a newspaper or TV station.
There’s also the problem of sorting through a sea of random stories, blog posts, Tumblr pages and YouTube videos about breaking news, all with similar taglines and descriptions.
Yet those negatives are outweighed by the positives. Giving any citizen the power to document events and break news can only be good news for transparency and fairness and bad news for censorship and oppression.
As far as journalism’s overall quality, the milk’s gone bad–a little bit. The carton says it expired yesterday but you might still be able to drink it.
There used to be a 24-hour news cycle, back when newspapers got printed once a day. Blogs, Twitter and the Series of Tubes have made the old 24-hour news cycle as relevant as your dad’s collection of eight-track Meatloaf tapes.
Now there’s pressure to break news all day and all night, even when there’s not really any news to break. Added pressure for sports reporters covering the NFL to search for a scoop of raisins in the Raisin Bran when there aren’t any raisins to be found because it’s the off season.
With more pro athletes, actors, politicians and celebrities using Twitter and other means to break their own news, the pressure to produce has never been greater.
That pressure eventually reduces quality. It’s hard to do a big investigative story when you’re trying to crank out three blog posts a day while tweeting and replying to Facebook comments. The pressure to produce can lead journalists to begin poking and prodding when there is nothing to be poked and prodded, or to focus on the newest shiny object or controversy, whether that controversy has merit or not. Conflict is news.
Don Delillo’s nightmare from White Noise could be coming true. Soon enough, we will be speaking TV-glish instead of English and having difficulty distinguishing theWalking Dead on AMC from theWalking Dead on TMZ, the people who are famous for being famous — the Snookies, Paris Hiltons and Kim Kardashians of world.
Despite Jersey Shore still being on TV for one last season, there is still lingering hope for journalism and civilization.
There’s a misconception that people aren’t reading as much these days. Not true. People may not be subscribing to newspapers, but that’s because they’re reading those same stories online. And it’s wrong to think content needs to be dumbed down to attract readers. Not to start a conspiracy thread but it is partially the marketing ploys of the media which perpetuate this kind of thinking. For example, you never see Neil deGrasse Tyson on Dancing with the Stars or plastered on a bottle of soda pop, but that doesn’t mean we don’t, as consumers, want to see that. What we see commercialized in everyday life can be misleading.
People want substance, and they’re getting it wherever they can. The Economist could not be denser and meatier, yet circulation of it is skyrocketing while fluffier magazines like Newsweek are going online-only.
While the way we get our news is shifting from paper and broadcast to the Series of Tubes, there’s a growing demand — not less demand — for good content.
Journalism will adapt, evolve and eventually thrive because it’s the only way to feed that demand, that hunger in every person to find out what’s going on in their neighborhood, their state, their country and the world.
Give us the who, what, when, where and why. Show us men landing on the moon and women becoming presidents. And yes, tell us about celebrities, but only if you’re breaking the news that Snooki is going away forever.
Alex Corey is a writer studying journalism at California State University-Northridge and a staff reporter for the bilingual El Nuevo Sol. He can be reached on Twitter @ptyjournalist and on the Series of Tubes at ptyjournalist.wordpress.com