In his article, “A Scenario for the Future of News,” Jeff Jarvis portrays how he believes journalism will evolve as the use of technology grows. Some would see his message as a doomsday attitude toward journalism; however, he predicts that journalism will become more “collaborative,” rather than “controlled by a single company.” Some would say that his prediction describes a shift toward civic journalism, where communities will come together to create the news. This could be highly positive for society, because this shift would counter individualism and network monopolies. If journalism had to become more specialized out of need with less people in the field, then perhaps journalism will shift back to where it should be in quality. As journalism moves away from major networks to a more distributed concept through freelancers, bloggers, local networks, and smaller papers, then journalism will be more democratic and thus freer to act as the government’s fourth estate and skeptic.
Jarvis is not saying that journalism is dying or even hopeless; rather, he is simply explaining how journalism will and needs to shift back to something that is less of a business model, and based more on telling fact and truth. When individual reporters, writers, and bloggers, are not bound to major networks, they will be able to contribute with fairer pieces, rather than simply following a monopoly’s agenda. As long as people do stupid things, journalism will exist. I do not think journalism will die anytime soon, perhaps our mindsets about what journalism is will have to shift with the evolution in journalism. If we look at journalism throughout history, one of the simpler concepts started where people gossiped in pubs and coffeehouses back in Europe. Some would say that is not journalism, but indeed, it acts as a forum for spreading communication the same way a newspaper does now in modern times. As usual, people are afraid of change, as it is the unknown, and are therefore pessimistic about the future of journalism. Rather than dread the future, perhaps we should simply look at how journalism is shifting and prepare for that, especially for those of us entering the career field.
In his book, In The Hot Zone, Kevin Sites logs his ethical dilemmas, narrates eye-witness accounts of war tragedies, and explains his personal inner conflict with his social responsibility as a human verses his responsibility as a journalist. Throughout his adventures, Sites interjects his responsibility as a journalist, to “report the truth” and “consideration of its potential harm” (16).
Sites lays the book out in sections in correlation to his travels. As he traveled to Iraq, Somalia, the Congo, Uganda, Sudan, Lebanon, Iran, Syria, Israel, Gaza, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Colombia, Haiti, Nepal, Kashmir, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam, Lebanon, and Israel. In each place, Sites gives insight into the politics between producers and editors at the major networks he is acting as correspondent for, such as NBC.
In his book, Sites explains how the network works with him as a war correspondent. He is basically wandering around through conflict zones recording what he is seeing through a video camera and various interviews on the fly, and feeding the video back to NBC through satellite. When the network felt he was betraying them, they emphasized his “freelance” status.
Sites also explains the advantage of keeping a personal blog. In his blog, he can expound upon his experiences and place the video NBC showed further into context. When things went wrong where the network released some of his footage out of context, he was able to use his blog as a platform to write letters to the public. By that time, his blog had gained such a large readership that he was receiving death threats and hate mail by the hundreds even after certain dramas had faded.
Sites seeks to use his own experience as a kind of manual and example for other journalists as well as for the general American public. His book helps even the average reader to understand the professional and personal sacrifices journalists have to make. As a war correspondent, Sites has to focus more on making ethical and moral choices on a daily basis as opposed to simple local news back in the United States. As war correspondent and Washington Post reporter Jackie Spinner once summarized, she never felt as betrayed by the American public as when she went to Iraq. Kevin Sites basically explores this same sentiment while discussing his personal blog and meetings with network producers. The perpetual ethical and moral wrestling match Sites goes through while shooting video or writing a story plagues him more than what he will cover. Sites reveals how wearing covering war as a journalist is, he is nearly as psychologically affected as soldiers. He explains how he leaves for Asia to escape for awhile at one point, and while he is free of the war scene during the day, he faces nightmares and restless sleep at night. The face, and smell of death, is relentless.
Kevin Sites works hard to portray the reality of war through his book and film, In the Hot Zone. Sites tries to remove himself from the picture; this is not to say that he tries to be subjective, rather, Sites focuses on being the eyes for those who cannot see what is going on while simultaneously helping the American public to understand the issues surrounding the conflicts in the various countries he visited. In explaining the personal problems, such as how he is affected, how NBC and other networks treat him, Sites seeks to humbly put forth not only his story, but the reality that he faces. In reporting the truth, he shows how the journalist is practically an independent warrior apart from the government and troops. Sites illustrates through his personal experience as a journalist abroad that his responsibility is as a human before he is a journalist. He explains that any death he witnesses or captures on film is his responsibility as soon as he sees it. The guilt he faces when not doing anything for someone spitting up blood is evidenced when he essentially journals about the situation and appears to ask himself what he could have done better. He almost regrets his behavior of standing there and filming the moment on video. Even as an experienced journalist, he is just as unsure of when his role of journalist switches over to fellow human being as a student in journalism.
In We the Media, Dan Gillmor illustrates how journalism has been evolving into more of a conversation among what used to be considered the audience. The definition of journalism is beginning to expand to include web logs (blogs), online forums, e-mails, and other non-traditional sources of news available through the Internet and other technological devices.
Gillmor touches on how journalism is becoming more democratic and less institutionalized in what he deems the “Big Media.” He explains how journalism was more of a lecture. Now lines merge between who is creating and consuming the news. The Internet affords anyone’s voice; anyone can publish. He believes this rise in citizen journalism will be a solution to the corporate journalism that often runs through a profit-making agenda.
Because the Internet now allows for people to read and write, rather than just read, news is converging and people can communicate to a wide audience while simultaneously communicating with few. Essentially, current communication technology allows infinite amounts of knowledge to exist outside of news station “rations.” This means that news stations will have to be more accountable than before, as more people can “assert” that the journalism outlet facts are wrong. Gillmor sees this as a positive trend because this counters secrecy. Blogging is becoming a main fixture in journalism. Companies are beginning to use blogs to share facts and counter negative critiques about their product while news reporters sift through blogs for information and possible people to quote in articles. Blogging is used in two ways—the journalists use the citizen bloggers to comment on the news while citizen bloggers comment on the media, thus creating public conversation.
While Gilmore argues that the journalism realm is becoming positively more democratic through the existence of the Internet, he does not appear to discuss the downside of this media evolution. As the fall of the information monopoly continues as people receive information from multiple sources via the Internet, print journalism, broadcast, mobile devices, and radio, people will also trust each source a little less in context with all the other sources. While the “Big Media” will be held more accountable to the facts, consumers will have to spend more time sifting through sources for the whole of the information because each source cuts down their information to snippets due to the need to rush the timeliness of an article.
Even though Gillmor believes the rise in “grassroots journalism” is fully positive, he does not appear to notice that citizen journalism takes away the authority that journalism once had. Citizen journalism can take “freedom of speech” out of context and therefore cheapen what journalists do as a career and vocation. With the rise in the amount of people producing information via the Internet, search engines become more difficult to search for what one is actually looking.
The more media outlets that exist represent how democratic a nation has become. While the freedom that any American citizen has to voice themselves through the Internet, we must ask how far this freedom can stretch. Journalists have to follow ethical codes and laws, and citizen journalists should not escape the same accountability simply because they are independent. Also, all this available information begs the question: “Why is this much information necessary? For what is its use? Is it a lasting change?” The author appears to promote instant-gratification and forgets that not all change is good. What is happening to the quality of our lives when the perceived everyone spends their time blogging and being informed? How do we filter out the trivial and senseless material from the things that matter when there isn’t an authority figure?
Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel uncover the core questions to journalism in The Elements of Journalism. The first chapter asks for what journalism is and explains that journalism exists to inform citizens of information. The basic premise is that the more outlets for journalism that exist in a country or society, the more democratic the governing body. Because of this idea, some are reluctant to actually define journalism, as this could suppress, or even limit, journalism. While journalism evolves, journalism is not defined by technological advancements and the basic purpose of journalism remains firm from the past. It feeds the basic need to know.
Journalists are supposed to be committed to the truth, which is not a philosophical or even objective concept in journalism. The truth, in journalism, is a tangible practicality that promotes security within a society and also stimulates awareness; media outlets should mirror the conversation of citizens. Kovach and Rosenstiel would argue that journalists have denied the existence of technique and method for finding and reporting truth. “Journalistic truth” is a gradual process that occurs through fact-finding and interaction with the audience (42). The truth is a journalistic goal, not always attained or found. When journalists have to spend more time in business matters over actual journalism, journalists should realize that their role as the government’s watchdog has been “undermined” (51). A journalist’s loyalty is to its citizens, should speak directly to a reader, and not a conceptual audience.
Through an outline of fundamental questions, Kovach and Rosenstiel explore how and what journalism is, and how journalists can return to what they view as true journalism. The Elements of Journalism illustrates through statistical and anecdotal evidence how journalism has fallen into societal traps of false ambition and illusion. Kovach and Rosenstiel press the point (no pun intended) that journalism is an opportunity to self-govern and the two authors see that journalists and citizens alike are not using this ability to the full capacity. Essentially, the authors reveal that conglomerated and globalized journalism negatively impacts how well the media outlets can maintain a public forum for local communities, rather than conceptual, web-based communities. The two authors accept that journalism evolves, but they wonder if it will be successfully possible as journalism yields to business-like models where the citizens become customers and as journalism becomes more accustomed to corporate ethical codes and financial pressure. If the media is monopolized, then censorship is possible.
While Kovach and Rosenstiel point to obvious flaws in the modern journalism institution, they also attempt to be the authority and the answer to primary philosophical questions regarding journalism. In asking a question per chapter, they answer their own question and directly define journalism why it exists and for what without worrying that they may in fact have limited journalism this way. However, without a definition, journalism exists as a simple ideal without concrete, practical use. The authors believe that journalism is not serving its purpose for others; rather, it is serving an end itself.
Kovach and Rosenstiel attempt to bring journalists back to their roots of working for individual citizens, not for business entities or even attempting to gain government favor. Additionally, citizens should not expect to be treated as customers and should even take more part in journalism, as the book explains that media outlets are public forums, meant to stimulate interaction rather than mere, lazy consumption. While Elements of Journalism focuses on what journalism is, Kovach and Rosenstiel do not provide guidance for journalists and the public on how to steer journalism back onto the right track. While the ideals brought forth in the book are significant and define what journalism has been in the past and should be now, the ideals would have to be incorporated within journalism schools so that the next generation of journalists could help evolve journalism back from where journalism has gone once the older generation has faded out of the editorial and decision-making roles of media outlets. Even then, this process would be evolutionary, and not instant.