Friday, May 8, 2009

Journalism - Trade or Profession?

Cronkite and Morrow - Real News Men

Ok, here is a break from tradition.  Rather than drinking more wine than is necessary and waxing philosophic on a topic, I’m going to pose a question.  Let me apologize beforehand to any Journalists reading this... I do not mean to belittle, I pose an honest question that I do not know the full answer to.

(As an aside... I’m listening to the newly remastered Moody Blues Days of Future Passed CD. WOW!  Awesome treat to hear that in such clarity as I never have before!!)

We all know that print newspapers are dead, I think that is a given.  While it may be sad in a nostalgic way, it’s a necessary evil.  The world is conquered by “them internets” and the day of the conglomerated news room with 12 hour lead times and print deadlines is soooo 1999.

But even before the death of print, we had CNN and MSNBC (and FoxNews... Bwaaahahahah) website news sources.  A quick perusal of any of these websites, or USAToday in print or virtually any news source is terribly revealing to me.

The Journalists who work for these organizations are not very good.  They do not write very inviting stories.  For most of the stories I get more from the bullet point headers on top of the story than from actually reading their story.   Now, as a caveat, I have been known to butcher the English language, but I also do not claim to be a professional.  When I find grammatical and spelling errors in a CNN online story, I worry.

I suppose that the mass marketing of all news these days is partly to blame.  How can CNN/MSNBC/Fox hope to compete with Twitter and Facebook?  Take into account the political leanings of the major rags and you have what is a very unreliable news machine in the country.

In England, Journalism is a trade.  You get on board with a company, you’re mentored and sooner or later you become a reporter.  With the exception of the labor/conservative rags, you have a decent amount of unabashed, if uninspired reporting over there.

Over here, we have treated Journalists as... well, the 4th estate for a long time.  But really, has the craft deteriorated lately or has it ever really been a profession?  We all know that the press is a VITAL part of keeping our Republic free and democratic.  Without the watchdogs in the press, we are lost.  When they become lapdogs to various concerns (*cough*Fox*cough*), we are just as lost.

Tonight I had occasion to watch the nightly news.  There was a blonde bimbo anchoring one of the major news shows and I was AMAZED at how ineffectual she was.  Dan Rather, Walter Cronkite and heaven forbid, Edwin R. Morrow would be sickened by the hodge-podge of crap that was spewed by this so-called news-room.  It was obvious to me that neither the anchor nor anyone responsible for the content of the show had any journalistic training.  It was more of a variety  show with captions and interviews.

But really, beyond that.  Look at where we are today?  There are literally hundreds of websites devoted to specific news about specific items that appeal to a specific audience.  If you are into 1 handed underwater lacrosse players, there is a web site with news, highlights and the latest scandals for you.  You certainly won’t find anything on Sports Illustrated though...

So, as the print generation of news gathering / reporting dies it’s natural death, are we letting Journalism die with it?  As individuals (i.e. Twitter and take over the news reporting, wither then the reporters?  Granted, the person who blogs/twitters about the things they care about are probably going to be more responsive and current on things within their spheres of interest.  For instance, if I want news about the gaming world, I will go to websites that I know and trust for their coverage on these things.  I will not search for news relating to gaming.

But more and more, I also don’t go there for news about anything.  I just don’t trust their reporting style anymore.

So, I sit and wonder...  Were Woodward and Bernstein really great professionals or just good tradesmen who followed a story and wrote about it?  They certainly precipitated a change in governance and doggedly followed the truth, but honestly, did they do something beyond what any other two people could have done?  Quite literally, if 2 other educated, dogged people had gotten that story (in today’s era)  wouldn’t they be capable of doing the same thing?

It makes me wonder, as society embraces the 5 minute news cycle versus the 24 hour cycle, have we lost Journalism as a profession in favor of the rank and file amateurs?

And is it a bad thing if we have?

And then the commenting started...

Paul Parker

First, I have to point out that your given is mistaken. Printed newspapers aren't dead, nor do I think they will ever die, at least not because of the Internet. Three major technological advances in the past threatened newspapers: the telegraph, radio and television. All three altered printed newspapers; none killed them. The Internet is no different because printed newspapers retain the same fundamental advantages over the Internet as over the others, not the least of which is that you can read a newspaper without batteries. Most importantly, though, is an economic advantage: newspaper advertising is the most permanent and persistent of all mass media. Advertisers know we close popup windows as fast as we can. And have you ever tried to remember the 800 number from a radio or TV ad? But newspaper ads can be clipped. They sit on the back of the toilet to be discovered even after you passed them by initially. When something really matters (like their kid scoring the winning goal or the first black man being elected president) people -- of all ages -- want the newspaper to commemorate the event.

You are right that the recent wounding of newspapers has wounded journalism as a whole because newspapers are the font of all quality journalism. Get any radio or TV reporter in a candid mood and they will confirm this. Their days generally start with an assignment director handing out a stack of clips from the newspaper. This is part because the nature of newspapers allows newspaper reporters to be more in-depth and thorough than their colleagues in other media, which promotes greater development of journalistic talent. It is also partly economic. Because of the lopsided advantage newspapers have as an advertising medium, they have long had huge staffs compared to other media. This allows more time to be devoted to reporting of a broader range of subjects. It also allows reporters to become experts in subject matter. So, as newspapers are suffering, all of journalism suffers.

As to your main question, all newspaper reporters know that journalism is neither a trade nor a profession. It is a craft, a skilled activity. People started misapplying the word profession to journalism after Watergate, when thousands of college grads flooded into the business. In the 1960s, college grads were rare in newsrooms. Today, everyone who's been there less than 40 years has a degree. Strictly speaking, a profession is an occupation that is licensed by the government or sanctioned by a private organization. With the First Amendment, neither of those is workable for journalism.

I leave you with Thomas Jefferson, who, most don't know, was no fan of newspapers:

"Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."

Saturday, May 9, 2009 - 08:14 AM



I had hoped you would jump in here, seeing as this has to be near and dear to your heart.

I do however question your assertion that print is not dead.  As you point out, the economic advantage that saw the newspapers through all the previous conflict was in advertising.  In this age of new media, I do not see the revenue stream continuing, and in fact, I see it not just declining, but reeling.  Many of the major papers are reporting huge deficits in advertising revenue and I do not see the future helping that.  Craigslist and e-bay have decimated the classified ad sections and I see more and more major players disdaining the print media for other venues.  Even Variety in California has seen several major movie releases snub the traditional full page ad on the pre-release day.  Not a game-breaker, but an indication that some very major PR firms don’t feel it necessary anymore, not when a quick clip on Google or YouTube will generate 50 times the response for 1/50th the cost...

I do not think this is a good thing.  I for one, prefer news from someone, like yourself, who becomes a subject matter expert when the need arises.  I trust in the fact that you and your brethren, classically trained, actually work to tell a story and provide a picture of the news of the day, something I know I do not get from the internet specialty sites.

Alas, what I cannot see is how the print newspapers will serve the growing, voracious appetite of the microwave generations who must be spoon fed their information in small doses lest they lose interest and move on.  The current, reigning rule of thumb for web page design is that you have 5 seconds to provide the answer or link thereto your site viewer before they move on.  This generation that is being born today with cell phones in hand and access to the richest, content-filled internet will not wait 12 hours for a printed paper to arrive at the doorstep/newstand.

Hopefully, real journalists will start to move to the electronic section of the business and long standing institutions (NY Times comes to mind) will re-address their online editions pricing and delivery strategies to move into where the market is going.  I still believe that people recognize quality and when they are offered it at the same speed and ease as the schlock that exists now, they will choose Journalists over hacks (myself included in the latter!).

Another 2/100ths of a dollar! :)

Sunday, May 10, 2009 - 04:10 AM



Your comment about "In England, Journalism is a trade" to me appears to be off the make, I watch the talking heads every morning and evening.  If they are in "The Trade Craft of Journalism" I for one feel they are failing miserably.

They talk of nothing but fluff, God forbid that the talking heads would actually dispense hard actual news...............

At least the printed press is not dead here. Page three pictures keep them profitable.........  Thank God for that.  Then again there is little actual news between the front page and the daily picture of some quite lovely lady.......

Saturday, July 18, 2009 - 06:33 AM