The death of traditional journalism: Whose fault is it?



At various points in our Media Work chapter addressing journalism and the convergence culture now descending upon it, references are made to technologies and management processes that take the disparate skills that journalists traditionally have performed and “mash” them into “multiskilled” reporting roles.

At first blush, it all sounds fine and dandy – a New Jack Journalist of sorts who carries more digital tools in his utility belt than Batman walking out of a superhero trade show. But the dangers this carries for the quality and effectiveness of the profession go well beyond the loss of those who succumb to the higher stress levels, lower pay, and required furloughs and don’t so much walk – but run – to that corporate spokesperson job when it comes open.

For those who “stay in the saddle” – and are comfortable enough with the cross-training in audio or video production, plus the various social media or even on-camera duties that may arise – one thing is inevitable. However effective they once were at sniffing out scandals in city hall – or trudging through a foot-deep stack of regulatory filings to find out how much of a $106 million-a-year utility rate increase is earmarked for executive bonuses – there is no way they can perform this depth of public service when they are forced to tweet about every other call they make to a source, voice-over some video footage that a photographer-turned-videographer [or reporters themselves] shoot, do interviews with a TV station that serves as their “newsgathering partner” – then get the heck out of the newsroom before they start drawing overtime.

Although media scholars seem to address this in no short measure, it seems that such conversations don’t take place near enough – or carry as much resonance – within newsrooms themselves. Such was my experience as an 18-year veteran journalist – and it’s the observation of media ethicist [and blogger] Ed Wasserman:

In response to Wasserman’s take on the situation, British journalism instructor Andy Dickinson contends – in so many words – that it’s the fuddy-duddy journalists and their resistance to change that seems to be the problem and not the techies or their ideas. Yet one thing they do seem to agree upon is that journalists themselves are not taking active roles as stakeholders in the process.

To me, this begs a simple question: Is journalism “as we know it” so much being pushed to its end by changing technologies and business models? Or have journalists played every bit as big role – and thus bear part of the blame – by sitting on their duffs and doing nothing about it?

— Bill W. Hornaday


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