Friday, August 28, 2009

Getting Started: Challenge and Opportunity

As we embark on our journey this semester, my desire is to see this blog develop into an extension of class, which ideally means we’ll continue in this space a thoughtful exploration of what journalism is, what it is becoming, and what it can be. Given the pace of change in media, and the impact of change on journalism norms, routines and practices, we have plenty to discuss.

I think it’s worthwhile for students to consider what they expect to gain from their journalism educations. I hope the answer is more than the skills to get your first job. We had a pretty good discussion about this, and I found it reassuring that so many of you feel confident about your basic journalism skills and that your multimedia training has positioned you well for starting your careers. But it is also apparent to me that many of you have not thought very deeply about the purpose of journalism, its value to society and democracy, and the philosophical basis for democracy, freedom of expression and a free press. These are big issues, and – sadly, in my view – not discussed enough with students.

What is discussed is that the media are changing. That journalism has fallen on hard times. Jobs are hard to come by. Audiences are going to the Internet, but no one has figured out a way to make money online yet. The future is uncertain, even bleak.

I’m not a journalism fatalist. In every challenge is great opportunity. But to seize the opportunities, I believe, takes more than multimedia skills and an entrepreneurial spirit. Anyone can be a blogger, a news aggregator, a social networker. These activities require no special knowledge, no expertise, no special skills. You don’t need to attend university to do these things. They aren’t very promising career paths, although mainstream media – caught in a malaise of uncertainty – has joined nearly everyone else in doing them. Seems ironic, perhaps tragic, that the largest employers of journalists – traditional media news organizations – are embracing practices that devalue the expertise of their staffs, and are at the same time divesting themselves of enterprise, investigative and hard-hitting reporting. Makes one wonder whether journalism has been reduced to simply reformatting and repurposing information that is readily available in many places on the Internet.

What is the value in that?

We can do better. Much of our course work this semester is intended to explore how. The reward is a better awareness of our journalistic opportunities, and – I hope – a desire to pursue them.

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