A question occurred to me yesterday while reading a book called Taking Journalism Seriously–a brief, recent history of interdisciplinary academic research in journalism. I found myself wondering if journalism has become absurd.
The interaction between journalism and politics is the focus of this weblog. And much academic research involves studying journalism in regard to its role in civic life. Indeed, many contemporary definitions of journalism include some notion of helping civic and/or political life work in a democracy.
There’s no denying that the press-politics relationship is important. But as I read the Sunday editions of the News-Leader and The New York Times today, I was reminded of something that I often forget: Journalism is about so much more than politics.
Now, another question occurs to me: If we are entering a post-press world (i.e. delegitimation of mainstream journalism–Rosen uses the term “de-certification”), what might this mean for the rest of what journalism does?
Further, what happens if de-certification takes hold in the culture before we complete the metaphor shift from “journalism as lecture” to “journalism as conversation”? This shift in metaphor is by no means inevitable. And while we really do not yet understand what it can or will mean, I believe such a shift is made necessary by advancing technology. I think no such shift can occur if the culture believes that journalism has lost its legitimacy.
Journalism, as we have been practicing it since about 1880, is an expository form of discourse. It is the rhetoric of journalism’s unique form of exposition that creates the feel of a lecture. Further, the epistemology of the profession and its pedagogy in the academy teach young journalists how to understand the world and lecture in regard to it in journalistic ways. As I have said, I think journalism is (was?) the most important discoursive practice in our culture. If the metaphor change fails to occur here it may not occur elsewhere.
Let’s be clear about what I’m claiming: If the metaphor doesn’t shift for journalism it might not shift for the internet. The reason: Despite the possibility of creating online social networks (complex conversations), the internet still exists in the old, expository noetic field. If I am correct about the cultural importance of journalism, then it must shift if other forms of discourse are to shift.
Do you suppose that what you read in the blogosphere is a conversation? I contend that much of it is another form of exposition–a lot of mini lectures from bloggers and readers who respond with lectures of their own. I see very little that actually looks like a conversation (there are notable exceptions among the mass of bloggers). Perhaps it’s time to define this term “conversation.” In order for it to make sense as opposed to a lecture in terms of civic discourse, a conversation must mean that the interlocutors are willing to exchange ideas and learn from that exchange (a noetic field such as this). Those immersed in the propaganda of partisan political struggle are loathe allow ideas to challenge their precious ideologies.
The blogosphere, however, has proven itself to be an excellent venue for the exchange of partisan rants for the purpose of…tell me please, just what is the purpose of all this ranting? It sure isn’t creating understanding, which is the purpose of a conversation.
Journalism could become absurd if delegitimation continues and the metaphor shift fails to complete. We will merely exchange one form of lecture for another one that has none of tradition or craft of the journalistic effort. But the lecture of the internet may fool us with an illusion of conversation. And that means we’ll fall further into the dark.