Wednesday, July 01, 2009

2009 Reflected In 1938

A common theme in politics is it has never been this bad before. This whine is always followed by someone countering with tales of Grover Cleveland's "bastard" child or Andrew Jackson's wife being called a "bigamist whore".

The current turmoil in journalism seems to have a similar tale to tell. Listening to the extremists, one might think a sudden vacuum in professional news is bringing the Republic to its knees.

Jack Shafer of Slate counters that we have indeed heard this all before. But he turns the argument on its head by arguing that we are actually entering a golden age of journalism.
What Sullivan got absolutely right in 1938 is that technology, culture, business, and audience tastes are always in flux, making it the job of writers young and old to grab the best available tools and get to the business of chronicling the world. If Sullivan were alive today, I'll bet he'd be encouraging journalists to study PHP and Javascript, to hone their video-cutting skills, and to learn how to manipulate databases. The cheap tools and affordable devices the average Joe has at his disposal to produce precision journalism and distribute it around the world are enough to make the reporters of yesterday sob in envy. It's the difference between digging ditches with a spade and excavating a canal with dynamite.
A loyal reader pointed me to this article and particularly the penultimate paragraph (which is not the one I quote above) but instead of reprinting that one as well, I encourage you to read the entire piece.

From fire to the printing press to the automobile to the iPhone, technology is always the great cultural motivator. We have arrived at one of those great divergences where technology is fundamentally changing institutions considered most sacred. It is time to make the hard choice - embrace the inevitable change or allow the inertia of lamentations to paralyze.


Gray said...

I spent many formidable years in the radio industry, and I think the problems with newspaper journalism is akin to the problems in radio that started a decade ago.

Napster and file-sharing destroyed album sales, and new technology allowed stations to "voice-track" shows from different cities. Satellite radio became viable. Essentially the music money dried up, and radio stations cut staff nation-wide. I personally did a live shift on one station, voice-tracked another two stations on the side. One of them was about 500 miles away in a city I had never even visited.

I shudder to think what would have happened if 9/11 occurred on a weekend, when 70% of the stations are running pre-recorded dj's and no one is around to manually break into programming for news.

Anyway, new technology changes things, and jobs get cut/destroyed/whatever. The journalism industry gnashing their teeth now is about two steps behind
where radio is, and it sucks. Adapt or die, I guess.

Alan said...

I happened to read about YouTube's Reporter Center today.

From the page...
The YouTube Reporters' Center is a new resource to help you learn more about how to report the news. It features some of the nation's top journalists and news organizations sharing instructional videos with tips and advice for better reporting.

Wendy said...

"The inertia of lamentations."

Dang, wish I would have thought of that one!