The Future of Journalism

There is a lot of discussion about Journalism these days. Do Bloggers count? How important is it to be linked to a traditional newspaper or television news outlet? I’ve come to the decision that people who ask those questions generally don’t make a distinction between reporters and journalists.

Accoring to the wiktionary, a reporter is the same as a journalist, and while this may be correct in the traditional (and modern) uses of the terms, I believe a distinction must be made. I think a Journalist, is the person who is actually out in the field, researching, experiencing, and investigating the story, while a reporter is little more than a talking head, presenting the journalistic work done by others. Think Brian Williams today, as Anchor of NBC Nightly News, Williams, who I find to seem very intelligent, does very little of the actual investigation himself. Like in most jobs, it seems that eventually you work your way up into positions that require less travel and more management of the people doing the more direct work. I’m not saying that Management doesn’t work at all, just that the responsibilities tend to be different and less focused on the work of the people in the trenches.

As for those others questions, like the one about Bloggers, there are absolutely some bloggers who are journalists. Me…I’m more of a pundit. Espcially when I write posts like this.

As for where I think Journalism is going? I think most of the major, most popular, news sources are pretty light these days. First off, there are several layers to our news system. The Associated Press is the source for an enormous number of stories reprinted or rehashed nationwide. If there is anything wrong with that, it’s not with the AP (aside from individual bias from their writers), it’s with the fact that the local news outlets can (and do) pick and choose what they present, and a lot of stories, that the AP might be reporting on, are nearly impossible to get, since the AP has no business model that supports giving access to their feeds to the general public.

But there is a perspective that many journalists, or at least many American journalists, are flat ignoring really important stories. I’ve heard many people say that if you want to know what’s really going on in US politics, watch the BBC News. But there are tons of other stories that aren’t being told there. That, I believe, is where some bloggers are able to fill the niche on a more local level, covering their municipality or beyond. Even further than that, there are stories that most journalists just aren’t interested in covering, particularly in any sort of in depth way.

The Internet, and much more largely the available of relatively inexpensive high-quality recording equipment, is changing that quickly. Sure, a lot of the video content is not very intriguing, but Current has built a large portion of it’s programming out of Viewer-Created Content (VC2), and some of the stories that come out of that, are really interesting, that approach stories from interesting perspectives, but it’s not necessarily the in-depth reporting we want out of journalists.

Enter another Current program, Vanguard. The Vanguard team, does a really good job of presenting a story with an even tone. I won’t say that they’re completely without bias. Certainly, the correspondents have their own opinions, and they show sometimes. And some stories, it’s impossible to not feel opposed to one side of an issue.

But then there are stories like this week’s episode, “American Jihadi”, about a kid from Alabama, who is now fighting a Jihad in Somalia against the Ethiopians. The correspondent, Christof Putzel, does an amazing job of telling the story without condeming or endorsing the work of the subject of the story. It’s an amazingly told story, and by far the best episode of Vanguard in a season that has had some excellent episodes.

I have become a firm believer, that smaller news organizations like this, who have no mandate other than to find interesting stories and report on them, honestly and truthfully, will change the way journalism is done. I had no idea that the US backed Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia, though I’m not surprised at all. The level of the conflict in Africa is simply not covered on the news outlets that I have more direct access to (or at least traditionally). Some people may watch the episode above, and walk away with more negative attitudes toward Islam, but the fact that the main person telling the story was the best friend of the jihadi, a muslim himself, and someone who doesn’t want or have that life, lends an enormous sympathetic level to the story.