About six weeks ago, I did something that felt like taking my professional life in my hands: I published a post that dared to criticize the digital revolution and its effect on journalism. I wrote about how …
in a panicked rush to remain relevant amid the shifting constellation of digital platforms, news organizations have grasped at every shiny new digital object.
The post went on to point out that, while many of our industry’s experiments with news on digital platforms have had very positive results …
the years of panic-driven digital experimentation had another, very disturbing, side effect: a collective loss of focus on basic reporting and real journalism … Somewhere along the way, we got so worried about the “content” a reporter can “create” that we forgot about the need to tell meaningful stories. We got so excited about re-Tweets and Facebook likes and web hits that we lost focus on our mission to inform and enlighten.
A couple of articles have come out over the past two weeks that make me feel like I’m not alone.
Last week, Poynter’s Ed Sherman wrote about the retirement of ESPN’s director of news, Vince Doria. According to the article, Doria has never posted a single tweet. Just to emphasize that – a news director who’s never tweeted! Sherman explains:
Doria gets that it’s part of the job these days, but he simply is adhering to the age-old doctrine that journalists should remain objective. “I just never felt it was good to do it in my current role,” Doria said. “No matter how you cut it, Twittter turns out to be a platform for opinion.”
The article goes on to quote Doria as saying social media has the potential to make reporters lazy and to erode journalistic standards:
I see all these stories based on tweets. The context is not fully understood. There’s no ability for follow-up questions. The current nature of media is if you have something, get it out there. It may not be fully vetted, but if it sounds interesting, let’s do a post.
Those sentiments were echoed in this week’s excellent RTDNA post by blogger and former TV news director Forrest Carr. Bearing the wonderfully un-diplomatic headline “Journalism’s Age of Shoddy,” the piece draws the connection between the explosion of online “news” sites in the early 21st century and the erosion of journalistic standards. Carr writes about the same panic I mentioned in my post and how it started gripping traditional news organizations, which feared falling into irrelevance if they didn’t get the story up first, even if that meant circulating unsubstantiated rumors. His post contains so many great quotes, I don’t know how to choose, but here’s one of my favorites:
In recent years I have watched web editors and assignment desks become more and more prone to publish anything and everything that comes into their newsrooms, especially if it’s already been posted or tweeted elsewhere. The standard became: he or she who publishes first wins, and then, whether it’s true or not, the story is “out there” and we can all “go with it.” Too many of us have been responding to the general loss of standards by losing our minds. In our panic to find a way to compete in this environment, we’re skidding toward abandoning faith in ourselves, our profession, and—even more importantly—the public.
I added the emphasis because I especially like the part in bold. Carr does offer some hope, and a little pep talk to those of us who are still fighting the new media panic and its resulting erosion of standards.
Traditional journalism may be an endangered species—but it hasn’t gone the way of the passenger pigeon just yet. If you are a journalist, then as 2015 gets underway ask yourself this question: what kind do you want to be? I hope you will be the kind for whom the ideals of fairness and accuracy still mean something. I further hope that if you are not lucky enough to work in a newsroom with similar values, that you’ll find a way, and the courage, to network with your coworkers to make a positive difference.
I’m glad people are speaking out about this, and I urge you to read both of these posts. They address a truly important issue that, until recently, few have been brave enough to address.