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Are Journalists to blame?

There doesn’t seem to be an easy answer to this question, and it seems journalists themselves are divided over the issue. Todays Media Guardian is a prime example of this conflict.

In his column Jeff Jarvis criticises, Adrian Monck, head of Journalism at City University, former Daily Mirror Editor now Guardian blogger Roy Greenslade and Paul Fashri of the Washington Post for absolving journalists of responsibility for the fall of newspapers.

After reading Mr Jarvis’ comments I was left questioning my thoughts. What is the cause of this dark period for newspaper sales? In order to answer this I have established two simplified basic questions in which to answer. Is the internet to blame? Or is the journalist to blame?

If we take Adrian Monck’s view then:

“Declining newspaper readership has nothing to do with journalism…The crops did not fail because we offended the gods.”

If we accept this view then the standard and quality of journalism produced by the press has had no affect. Whilst to some extent I agree, the nature of the media in recent years appears to have moved closer to American sensationalising crime and in some respects not catering for public interest, for instance reduction in crime is not as important as small rises in crime.

Despite this, the nature of the public and there demand in my opinion has dramatically changed. People do not seem to care about real news anymore, the celebrity world we live in seems to have taken over. However the celebrity model doesn’t fit. Those that are obsessed are surely more likely to buy a weekly magazine than a daily paper or already know what is being reported in the case of those who actively follow Big Brother.

Paul Farhi summed this up by saying:

“Newspapers are in trouble for reasons that have almost nothing to do with newspaper journalism and everything to do with the newspaper business.”

So is the decline down to journalism, or lack of public interest or something else….

Mr Jarvis stresses that as journalist “we did not see change coming soon enough and ready our craft for it’s transition. After my fortnightly online journalism lecture with Chris Brauer this morning I would tend to agree. The vast array of developing media outlets like newsmapping, oration, newsline, 12 seconds.tv, twitter and phoneshow to name just a few, the potential for journalism on the web is huge.

Citizen journalism is increasing sharply and the greater availability to communicate and share information, – whether it be through blogging, video casting, social mapping or simply social network sites like facebook, – creates a market which not only provides immense scope to generate news but creates a demand for instant news which newspapers cannot compete with. It is therefore unsurprising that a number of newspaper titles are facing an uncertain future, where is a rather strong guarantee none will disappear before the end of the year as some predict, the long term future is less than concrete.

Mr Jarvis adds:

“It is our fault we did not give adequate stewardship to journalism and left business to the business people. it is our fault we sat back and expected some princely patron to support us.”

The internet is not everything. Journalism needs to re-invent itself. The newsroom needs to be stripped down and re-evaluate. The defining principles of journalism re-established and new media embraced and monitored to ensure newspapers are not left behind. There does not seem to be an easy answer to this question, it appears it is simply down to personal opinion.

I am therefore going to go out on a limb and disagree with both parties. I don’t believe that either side is solely to blame. The development of new media, changing news agendas, and the pyramid structures of newspapers which as Greenslade states, removes journalists of any power are to blame for the decline in newspapers. The future is in harnessing new technology enabling journalists more freedom, which thankfully through blogging this can somewhat be achieved.

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3 Comments Post a comment
  1. As a young journalist myself, it’s good to get the perspective of someone viewing journalism from a similar starting point. I sometimes write on the publishing industry and those I talk to say that bad economic conditions and digital media are hurting all print publications. Look at the ABC figures and any publishing company’s annual report and it’s obvious that falling revenues from sales and advertising are the problem.

    I don’t think this is because of bad journalism; I think it’s a question of where readers can get what they’re looking for. The individual bloggers won’t seriously damage major media companies (Guido Fawkes is the exception, not the rule); though when a blog becomes mainstream (e.g. The Huffington Post), it might. But this is a question of sources and resources, not of anything inherent in the appeal or quality of ‘digital’. The biggest problem in this country is the all-pervasive BBC.

    It can’t be faulted for quality – they have some of the finest journalists in the world – but that’s also part of the problem. The BBC has a dominant share of almost every readership/viewership it competes for (terrestrial TV, digital TV, online, radio, its magazine brands), but doesn’t need to worry about attracting advertising revenue.

    Other 24-hour news channels and news websites would crop up if the BBC weren’t there, so print publications will have to evolve anyway (newspapers becoming ‘viewspapers’, for example, and concentrating on their own websites), but there is a danger that the disappearance of ad revenue from the established news media entirely will result in cost-cutting, meaning fewer and less well paid editorial staff. That means losing the best candidates to better-paid careers, which means losing quality journalism.

    So my problem isn’t whether bad journalism fragments audiences; it’s whether fragmented audiences will cause bad journalism.

    (By the way, I’m interested to know what your lecturers’ views are about the career prospects of newly qualified journalists now.)

    October 13, 2008

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  1. You can’t always get what you want « Blog of small things
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