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Monday, December 22, 2014
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    Southern Journalism

    Once upon a time there were journalists

    by | Feb 25, 2011

    One of the miracles of this brave new information age we’re living through is the ability to find out just about anything with a few clicks of a mouse. Need to know what the weather will be tomorrow, what’s playing at the local Cineplex or who the mayor of Poughkeepsie is? The answers are all out there, floating about with several billion other bits of info.

    Several years ago, during a delightful trip to Prague with the lovely Miss Wendy, I snapped a photo of a piece of sculpture at one end of Wenceslas Square. Back home and curious about the artwork, I did a quick search on Google for “Wenceslas Square” and “abstract sculpture”. At the time I wasn’t yet a believer in the magic of the internet and didn’t think my efforts would be rewarded. Wrong!

    Several sites popped up within seconds, providing detailed information about the artwork – it was called Kaddish and created by Ales Vesely, a well-known Czech sculptor who was part of an artistic movement known as the Czech Abstraction. Who knew? Well, I did, thanks to my computer and the magic of the web!

    I mention all this as prologue, a sort of metaphorical scratching of the noggin, before I wonder aloud why we’re not witnessing a renaissance in the field of journalism. It’s a given that today we’re flush with great and grand new wonders of technology, providing journalists with the ability to quickly find detailed information on just about any topic and communicate it around the globe.

    The problem is journalists are being replaced with data gatherers who wouldn’t know a scoop from a scam and wouldn’t recognize news if it broke out in their windowless cubicle. These gatherers of info are controlled by marketing gurus, no longer worried about fairness, objectivity or the dissemination of news. Mostly they are concerned about page views, market share and the bottom line.

    Events of import, all that boring stuff that impacts our lives, are ignored or buried beneath the latest celebrity sightings. Aggregators, meanwhile, toss out a huge net on the web, stealing the hard work of struggling journalists and repackaging it all with bloated essays and punditry to attract readers with a particular point of view.

    No longer, it would seem, do we need to make an effort to figure out what is really happening in this brave new world. We simply need to find just the right site that echoes back the politics, values and beliefs that each of us knows represents the truth.

    But I digress. The genesis of this rant is a marketing scheme I stumbled across recently while listening to CNN on satellite radio. The anchor – I’m certain she is lovely, qualified and demographically perfect – listed three stories, then announced we (that would be you and me) could choose which feature would be aired in the following hour. All we need do is text what we wanted to hear. Presumably, the story with the most votes, ah, wins!

    What’s next, “Dancing with the News”, featuring our favorite anchor, presenting a series of stories based on the number of hits each has received on the company’s website? Oh wait, that’s already happening, data gatherers waltzing to the tune of their bosses, focusing only on the demographic studies and surveys compiled by consultants.

    Okay, there is a bright spot. Some creative and innovative work is being done by many newspapers and a few websites keying on local news. It’s one of the few places you’ll find real journalists on the job, doing what they’ve always done – reporting and writing news and features. It’s a start.

    This article first appeared on Ron Feinberg’s This & That blog.

    ###
    Ron Feinberg

    Ron Feinberg

    Ron Feinberg is a veteran journalist who has worked for daily newspapers across the Southeast, including the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville, Fla. and the Charlotte Observer in Charlotte, N.C. He recently retired from The Atlanta Journal Constitution where he had been an editor since 1979. He was the news editor for The Atlanta Journal before it was folded into The Atlanta Constitution in the mid-1980s, then news editor for The Constitution. In the mid-1990s he helped create the AJC's Faith & Values section and served as its first editor

     

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    • Darby

      There is a contest in cyber land where one can win an ipad. To win, you just have to have the winning tweet explaining “why journalism matters.” I love irony.

    • Tom Poland

      The winds of change are ahowling … from dailycamera.com … And I quote … “The University of Colorado is considering closing its traditional journalism school and dramatically remodeling the way it trains students for the profession.

      The future of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication is unclear, but budget woes and the rapid evolution of media have prompted Chancellor Phil DiStefano to instruct CU officials to start reviewing the school under the regents’ “discontinuance” policy.

      Interim Provost Russell Moore is also setting up an exploratory panel charged with generating recommendations for a new information, communication and technology program. The shake-up could translate to job cuts for journalism school employees without tenure. But CU officials said the school will remain open long enough for all current journalism students to complete their degrees. CU’s journalism school now enrolls 647 undergraduates; 58 master’s students and 26 doctoral students. The curriculum could shift for CU’s 684 pre-journalism students who have yet to be accepted into the journalism school.”

      • Monica Smith

        If that were being reported about the UF School of Journalism, I’d say “good riddance.” As a public citizen in Florida in the ’80s, I got to see first-hand how they were being trained to arrive with formulaic questions that were designed to fill in whatever topic they’d been assigned. They’d sit in public meetings for hours and then ask some participants what just happened. In other words, they were being trained to elicit spin. It was hard not to give it to them.
        My own researches in newspaper archives demonstrated that the news had always been about “important” people, providing laudatory coverage for the favored and derogatory reports about the disfavored. So, for example, only accusations about crime were reported about blacks, while white citizens had even their vacation trips highlighted.
        I can appreciate why some people only read the sports pages. At least there, current events and facts predominate. Although, the focus on personalities is creeping in.

    • Bob

      Good article, Ron. Loved “Dancing with the News.” I’m sure that’s next, or some other abomination.

    • Gita

      I think they’re lining up a cooking show on the Food Network for celebrity journalists: “Bits and Bytes.”

    • Jack deJarnette

      Thanks Ron, great piece. I have watched and read as so called journalism had declined in quality. I remember hearing Peter Jennings, before his sad death say: “The role of a journalist is to interprete the news”. “No, I screamed at the TV screen. I true journalist REPORTS THE NEWS AND ALLOWS ME THE PRIVILEGE OF INTREPRETING IT. There is an arrogance that I perceive in TV Journalism (so called) that has driven me away from it altogether. On the other hand, when I read the newspaper there are so many typos that I get distracted. What is a person to do?

    • Cliff Green

      Thanks, Ron, for your spot-on observations. In additon to despising tv’s tell-us-what-you-think suggestions to go to their website to “vote” on some aspect of the news, I have come to hate the medium’s cheaply produced, low-hanging-fruit coverage. I mean, how many brush fires and non-fatal car wrecks does it take to fill up an hour an a half?

    • Melinda Ennis

      Unfortunately, no one needs any journalistic or writing skills to be a self-published “journalist” on the internet (including me by the way). You can instantly have your own publication and say whatever you want just by creating a blog. It can be misspelled, misleading and misanthropic, and it still gets out there in cyberland where all ideas and blurted rants are treated equally. There is no one to check to make sure your sources are accurate. There is no one to vet the facts of your information. And, there is no group or process to consider the moral and ethical implications of what you are publishing. That is what journalism must compete with today. And, the good and accurate journalism that Ron and others are justifiably lamenting must be funded. It takes funding to send someone like the courageous Moni Basu to Afghanistan, Iran or Haiti. Moni and investigative journalists such as her are like the military—they fight our battles for us. But, their wars are with the governments, institutions and corporations that seek to dupe and diminish us. To me, their battle is every bit as valient and important.

      To that end, I think I have a pretty good answer to Darby’s tweet contest challenge. But, I don’t have a solution about how to save it. Journalism is important because without it, there’s no official watchdog to look out for and inform us about abuse in corporations, governments and institutions. There may be rumors or hearsay information, but there is no one within an officially sanctioned and vetted system to provide the realtively accurate truth. Take the current Georgia legislature and its ludicrous proposals, John Oxdedine and the APS abuses as three recent examples. We might hear about some of these things through friends or contacts, but who would represent our need to know the truth? I don’t know. But I’ll stand by journalism, warts and all, until someone has a better idea.

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