Debates around future of journalism get stuck in petty disputes
Feb 7, 2013
From old theories to new habits, it seems we have less and less availability to debate. It will only make things worse
There is no journalism without journalists. The maxim seems obvious, but it isn't. Particularly for two groups: journalism teachers who still discuss the Hypodermic Needle Theory and professionals who can still distinguish between journalists and "journalists" (the quotation marks are used to differentiate "professionals" from "amateurs"). From a non-existent discussion, a radical dispute was created over who owns the journalism of the future. And while they fight over the shadows of the cave, they lose sight of what is really relevant - what are the business models and formats of tomorrow's journalism.
A disclaimer: there is nothing temporarily new here. Not even the example below is new (it will be a year old in May). I decided to write about the subject after hearing a colleague who works in print media talk about the virtues of print and the disgrace of digital journalism and also hearing an academic make the same type of prejudiced assertion.
A profile of a journalist from the Business Insider website made by the NYT last year leads to discussion. Joe Wiesenthal, the star of the financial market coverage for the site, is presented by the profile as an obsessive workaholic who swaps day for night, tweets uncontrollably, and puts his own health at risk due to the almost physical need to be the first to point out the first trend, to be the first to report the fact, to alert about a future event first. Naturally - according to the report - the journalist's error rate is high, but the general feeling is that he and the site (which does a kind of tabloid for Wall Street), endorse the thesis that it is worth making mistakes more often to break the news first. Despite everything, Wiesenthal is followed by a weighty audience, like the Nobel Laureate in Economics and NYT columnist, Paul Krugman.
An American academic classified Wiesenthal as pathetic, saying that he did not teach his students to follow that model, but rather, to be right much more than to be wrong. The owner of Business Insider, Henry Blodget (a former Wall Street analyst who was banned from the stock market for trying to ‘pump’ stocks during the first dot.com bubble at the beginning of the last decade) wrote an article slamming the professor from Tampa University, basically saying that he did not understand the new digital journalism and that he was doomed to cling to an outdated model.
While the journalistic and academic versions of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade and Shas continue to fight, basic principles of journalism for the first time in five hundred years have ceased to be firm and make journalists increasingly lose the trust of society with errors like those of El Pais in the case of the publication of the photo of Hugo Chávez.
Today the production of information is at an impasse that seems to be exactly in the place that capitalism usually calls a market failure. The process of decomposition of traditional journalism, its revenue forms, and its publication protocols are not being compensated with due speed by the new digital formats. The causes of this transformation are far from a lack of goodwill from the radicals on both sides, but without them, the transition can only be more painful and dangerous - not only for them, but for society as a whole.
It is a mistake to think that the fissure in the world of information started with the digital era. Academia and communication research have been divorced from practice for decades and traditional journalism has also been deteriorating its greatest asset - credibility - for a long time. The discussion about who is right or wrong has as much effect as a bar conversation because the basic changes to which journalism is being subjected are irreversible. In short: the boat is sinking and we are all in it. We can choose to sink with it or seek an exit. For now, the overwhelming majority of the protagonists of the shipwreck still prefer just to keep cursing each other.