Monday, April 6, 2009

Stop exaggerating: journalism is not dying. It's changing.

I have some comments about a column written today, "As newspapers disappear, so does nation's link to real journalism," by DeWayne Wickham of Gannett. While I have the utmost respect for someone who has been working in the journalism industry for over 20 years, I would like to note two things about the piece that bother me.

It makes flimsy connections

Wickham notes that the Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Sun-Sentinel shut its office in Havana, "bringing home the only U.S. newspaper reporter based in Cuba's capital just as Congress seems poised to end the U.S. embargo of that communist country."

First of all — the Associated Press and CNN still have a presence on the island.

Second — Congress is not exactly poised to end the embargo. President Obama recently set into action a lifting of restrictions for family members traveling back and forth and sending remittances between the U.S. and Cuba. But he has also said that he would not lift the travel embargo until Cuba's government becomes more like a democracy. Obama intends to maintain the embargo as an inducement for democratic change on the island. Which makes complete sense.

Yes, the Treasury Department said it would ease licensing requirements for trade-related travel by U.S. citizens — but this does not mean the embargo will end any time soon and that we will be lying under a palm tree in Havana this summer. It's certainly a hope that I carry that the embargo between the U.S. and Cuba will be completely removed, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. And let's especially not imply that the removal of a reporter will have any affect on whether Obama lifts the embargo or will significantly affect our coverage of it. Let other people imply this, but now is not the time to mitigate our own abilities. To me, this is a loose, exaggerated connection that implies we as journalists are unable to keep time with this story as it unfolds. Have more faith; we have to, so people can have faith in us.

The "death of journalism" is an irritating phrase

Death is a strong word, Mr. Wickham; I disagree. As Michael Kinsley points out in his latest op-ed for the Washington Post: "If General Motors goes under, there will still be cars. And if the New York Times disappears, there will still be news."

I completely agree with Wickham regarding the lack of resources newspapers are experiencing right now. And resources continue to decline: three major newspapers have gone under, which means less reporters on the ground, which means less eyes and ears open. And although the Seattle P-I is all online now, there will likely be more aggregated content and less hard, investigative journalism.

But I don't believe journalism itself will die if there is less news printed on paper. It will find a way to live on, because people like you, Mr. Wickham, and myself — even though I'm hardly at your status — have passion and dedication to the field. Please have more faith; no, Twitter is not journalism as we know it, but the Internet can become a great outlet for it once we figure out how to do it right, and we can use networking sites like Twitter to connect other people to that information.

The business model for journalism is changing, and it's going to change whether we like it or not. We need to accept it and embrace new ways of thinking about gathering and reporting information. And, I have faith that we will.


  1. I completely agree. It'll take some getting used to the changes, but journalism is far from dead. Just different.

  2. Nope, journalism is dying. It's suffering a self-inflicted death, and silly tricks like Twitter are not going to save it.

    Prediction: You'll look back on these posts in five years and realize how naive you were. Enjoy the folly until then.

  3. pssssst. it's Gypsy. :)

  4. @Akirah - Yes, journalism is evolving right now and it'll be interesting to see what business model starts to develop as the primary answer to the situation we're in.

    @rknil - I'm curious; are you a journalist? Trust me, I'm just as saddened by newspapers disappearing as the next writer, but I disagree with you. First, Twitter isn't trying to "save" anything - some people are just using it to connect and share new ideas.

    Second, just today I went to a panel with Jay Harris (publisher of "Mother Jones"), William Hack (a journalist for 45 years), Lynne d Johnson (journalist and blogger who's in tune with social media) and Molly Sheridan (a younger, quick-witted professional journalist). The message was clear: The forums through which we we receive our news are evolving, but there will always be a need for good journalism. I strongly believe that. Because at its heart, journalism is a public service. We don't get into journalism for the money. It's the desire to help others through knowledge and communication. And that desire will always be there.

    And so, five years from now, journalism may look very different - content may be packaged differently, it may be only online, it may be a combination of print and online, it may involve a myriad of video/audio/cooperative media - but I have no doubt that it will exist. No. Doubt.

    @the bare bohemian - Hi, girl!