This article in the Society of Professional Journalists’ publication Quills is dead on.
Is journalism’s main problem the failing business model? The sub-headline makes it perfectly clear where the authors of this piece stand:
Rather than slapping a fresh coat of paint on the business model, perhaps there’s a bigger problem: the cracked foundation
This pretty much sums it up:
“If we really want to reconstruct American journalism, we need to look at more than the supply side; we need to explore the demand side, too.” Schaffer points out that news workers too often fail to see how their role may be contributing to journalism’s problems. She asks, “What ailing industry would look for a fix that only thinks of ‘us,’ the news suppliers, and not ‘them,’ the news consumers?”
I have previously noted this issue as have many others. I think we have a point.
Let’s imagine an analogous example in a non-media industry. Let’s imagine, for instance, that large numbers of people stopped buying Coca-Cola products. Let’s say that the drop-off in sales was so extreme that it caused entire distribution plants to be shuttered, mass layoffs, etc. What kinds of things do you think Coca-Cola executives would do? I bet some of the things they would do would be market research to determine why exactly people stopped using their product and what product they are using instead. Do news organizations do similar analyses of their readers/viewers/listeners? If they do, they’re not doing it enough and they are not making strategic decisions as a result of their findings.
The article goes on:
Thinking about “them” — what New York University Professor Jay Rosen [linking is mine] has called “the people formerly known as the audience” — is as vital as pondering new economic models for journalism. In fact, it is mandatory for a more relevant journalism for two reasons: 1) news consumers indicate they see traditional journalism as inaccurate; and 2) news consumers are increasingly asserting that they have a role in defining what is credible news.
All I can say is AMEN.
And yet, I sense that there is still resistance in many newsrooms to thinking this way and approaching news gathering this way. There are some great examples of this changing, but they are few and far between.
Why does the news media have such trouble with this? The SPJ piece suggests what I think many people have already started to sense – that journalists are so caught up in staying objective and professional (whatever that means), that they lose touch with their audience:
“Too often, the focus of professionalism rests in an approximation of a scientific, we-give-you-the-facts approach that reveals a worldview divorced from citizens’ concerns and sensibilities.”
Being professional and ethical is great, but not when it distances you from the people consuming the news you produce. And as for journalists’ vaunted objectivity, that too needs to be reconsidered:
Journalists must rethink objectivity, as Brent Cunningham urged in a 2003 article in the Columbia Journalism Review. He noted, in a world of spin, a “particular failure of the press: allowing the principle of objectivity to make [the press] passive recipients of news, rather than aggressive analyzers and explainers of it.”
In other words, almost anyone can do the simple task of recording what happened when and who said what. Not everyone can (or should) take up the task of explaining what it means or put it into a larger context. This is the task that journalists must passionately tackle and it is a task that cannot be done without knowing what matters to their audience. Many journalists just don’t seem to know what that is.
Finally, the piece talks about the next generation of news gatherers, the digitally savvy grads who can blog, shoot video and are adept with social networks. These technical innovations are all good and well, the authors reason, but they alone cannot take journalism where it needs to go. That culture change must occur in newsrooms themselves:
Attacking the problems with objectivity, then, begins in the newsroom. A bevy of new young journalists equipped to use the latest technology won’t help journalism’s credibility problems if the culture of the newsroom continues to emphasize treating news as a lecture instead of a conversation. Newsrooms need a new orientation toward news work. Instead of objectivity, journalism needs to take a side —the side of the public, and what it needs from the news to help daily life go well.