Southern Journalism

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