Journalism’s death and reinvention is needed in education as well
Jun 22, 2012
Journalism's death and reinvention - the impact of digital revolution and the need for education to adapt.
The digital revolution in journalism began about five decades ago, with the introduction of the first non-analog tools in newsrooms. It consolidated in the 70s with the telex and the first computers, becoming the dominant tool in data manipulation in the 80s with the fax and digital text editors. What was a ripple has turned into a wave and today is a tsunami. Essentially, information companies that do not prioritize the digital delivery of their product are increasingly on the ropes. This does not mean that journalistic activity is at risk. Rather, its "spirit" is not, but the concrete part, such as processes, practices, tools, and protocols inherited from print/television/radio, are doomed to death. Death, in this case, does not mean the end, but a reinvention. The role of the journalist as society's ombudsman depends on the success of this reinvention, which deals not only with practice but also with how the education of new journalists will take place.
There is a battle underway, and it cannot be won by large media companies - at least as long as they do not realize what they are facing. And it is not easy to find out exactly. There is a huge amount of changing elements, and each company is more or less affected by some, but not by others. So far, the most common response is that inherited from 20th-century journalism - cuts in the newsroom, growth of popular coverage that attracts an easy audience, reuse of content for various media, with variations from company to company. All have ventured into digital incursions, but few in the world (and none in Brazil) have established a long-term plan based on the areas where they need to react decisively.
The first and toughest change comes from the fact that journalism is no longer a monopoly of newspapers and especially journalists. Twitter, Reddit, Wikipedia, Storify, social networks, and a series of other tools have stepped into journalism and, although none of them can remake the portrait that the newspaper could, all have managed to make the newspaper itself also unable to, because this portrait is no longer possible. Not to mention publishing platforms closer to old journalism - blogs and websites - that technology has made within anyone's reach (and not that this does not have a price, for there will always be more chaff than wheat). The point here is that few companies on the planet can try to compete on a very wide range of fronts (like Google, for example). The time has come for each company to decide what it wants to be, what its core business is, and how it should approach its battlefield.
There are fields of traditional journalism that are finding solutions and even benefiting from them. For example, in the magazine market, only very obtuse publications are beating their heads against a brick wall (like one that charges more for the digital subscription than the print one and charges for an app that brings ads). Magazines have discovered a spectacular repertoire of tools to complement their work. Local journalism has not yet found itself, but tends to get closer to the community, both in the audience and in production, a solution that reduces costs thanks to technology and can give greater editorial control to those interested. Not to mention that it ends the farce of the "intern", who is actually a professional earning a fractionated salary under the alleged advantage of "learning", even though he is working like a senior journalist in many places.
The ego of journalists needs to respond to their reason. Good journalists, those capable of raising stories, checking facts, making complex reflections, relating apparently indistinct points, cannot be replaced by anyone. The skills inherent to good journalism will not disappear and some secular practices are as fundamental today as in John Reed's coverage of the Soviet Revolution. But there are people with all these qualities who do not necessarily need to be journalists. In the draft of this new journalism, these professionals have a guaranteed place as long as they understand that the collaboration of information sources and non-orthodox narrative instruments have to enter the game. More airy newsrooms have already realized that they can take great advantage of the new tools. On the other hand, there are plenty of companies that follow the extinction manual to the letter and prefer to cling to the tradition and strength they believe their brands have. It is safe that a reliable brand is a hefty asset, but even big brands lose ground and run the risk of dying.
Two factors are the foundation of the reinvention of journalism in the digital age. First, the absorption of the possibilities of new technologies by professionals forged on the typewriter. It is a difficult task, because it requires a reinvention of the professional himself, his beliefs, habits, and dogmas. But it is necessary. These professionals (the competent ones, because there are thousands of experienced professionals who are not worth a nickel) have a very valuable asset, which is the passion and personality they bring in their luggage (as portrayed in this excellent Forbes article).
The second is even more difficult because it depends on the State, even more than society: journalism education is about 60 years behind. The schools are full of teachers who have taken refuge in academia out of fear or incompetence to act in the market and as a consequence, do not prepare students for the real world. There is a huge skills gap between new journalists (in the Brazilian case, dramatically larger, because the fraudulent education system allows semi-illiterate students to graduate from college). And there is no doubt that the demand for journalism education is higher than ever. As a curiosity, 10 out of the 10 most searched terms on Google with the word "journalism" mention journalism education.
The news market is changing radically, and only students who take the initiative can protect themselves, learning on their own and between this market and academia, the exchange is very low (in some cases, nil). Students who have the chance to have good teachers who, on their own, decide to redesign the curriculum, are lucky, but minority. Parallel to the bankruptcy of traditional study, especially where the State takes care of Education with utmost carelessness, education itself is reinventing itself, and distance education courses are growing in quantity and quality. Studies have already shown that online courses can be as or more efficient than face-to-face ones, but there is still a gigantic gap in legislation and supervision that allows, also here, there to be more chaff than wheat.
The changes in journalism are level 10 on the Richter scale. Education also needs a reinvention that puts research in contact with the market because today, the professional almost never finds relevant support in research (which are much more originated with the ease of getting a title than with the need to find solutions). Either way, changing is not necessarily bad, and in this case, it is not even an option. Actually, the more time we lose trying to pull the mediosaurs out of the mud, the longer will be the period of chaos in which the transition will take place (because, make no mistake, the road is bumpy). Journalism will not die. It just needs to let its new generations surface, instead of fighting with them.
“All have ventured into digital incursions, but few in the world (and none in Brazil)”: the digital newspaper Nexo is an exception, even if its business model is hard to replicate.
“Journalism will not die. It just needs to let its new generations surface, instead of fighting with them” - the real problem is how society will do without journalism in the meantime.