Saturday, July 05, 2008

Tipping Point: Journalist-Free Journalism

As newspapers cut 1,000 jobs last week, Americans are getting their sense of the world less and less through human eyes and ears than from TV cameras abetted by well-groomed mannequins gushing over an endless flow of images.

Talking heads on cable and bloggers online parse and pick away at what the cameras see but there are fewer and fewer reporters to find out what's hidden by using such old-fashioned skills as observation, questioning and legwork.

Where is the tipping point at which "news" becomes all opinion all the time about "facts" supplied by self-interested sources?

Newspapers are drowning in red ink even as Americans depend more heavily on what they do but don't pay for the information they get from them digitally and advertisers don't cover the costs of allowing them to continue providing it.

The challenge, according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism, is to "reinvent their profession and their business model at the same time they are cutting back on their reporting and resources." A top news executive is quoted as saying, "It’s like changing the oil in your car while you’re driving down the freeway."

Meanwhile, Timothy Egan argues on his New York Times blog, "there’s plenty of gossip, political spin and original insight on sites like the Drudge Report or The Huffington Post--even though they are built on the backs of the wire services and other factories of honest fact-gathering. One day soon these Web info-slingers will find that you can’t produce journalism without journalists, and a search engine is no replacement for a curious reporter."

Meanwhile Rush Limbaugh gets a new $400 million contract for spouting off on one medium, while Lou Dobbs, Bill O'Reilly and Keith Olbermann (bless his splenetic soul) dominate another with their points of view.

The pay and job security are nowhere near as good in the mills that provide their raw material.


Anonymous said...

Is ad space too cheap? Is there a way to put a "floor" under it?

Taylor Wray said...

Great observations. I'm getting the feeling these days that our beloved TV "reporters" haven't spent a day in a journalism class, but sure do know how to read a teleprompter with the right emphasis. The blogs are trying to pick up the slack, but journalistic professionalism seems hard to find there as well. Ah, if only we could have the old "objective media" of the 20th century back!