Jay Rosen has published part 2 of his Q & A about NewAssignment.net in which he begins to answer some serious objections. I have a problem with this part:
If “Donors balk at an inconvenient truth” is the first warning, what’s the second?
The site will only fund projects that bring in the donor clicks. So the perceived availability of funding, not the intrinsic newsworthiness of a story, will come to rule the editorial roost.
To which your answer is?
Good editors. With reserve funds. That’s exactly why the reserve funds are there. To un-enslave the editors. Still, I think this is something to watch out for.
Rosen pulls out the “good editors” retort a few times. And, for the most part, I’m willing to play wait-and-see because I think he’s on to something important here. Journalism is practiced by people, not commercial institutions. If you take away the institution–or, as he says, the media–I think there’s a real chance that good editors will be the ones who smooth those early bumps.
But… Let’s consider the purpose of journalism as stated by Kovach & Rosenstiel and edited by Cline, McGill, and Iggers: The purpose of journalism is to give people the information they need to make public life work. I’ll bet Rosen buys into some reasonable articulation of this. In fact, he’s offered a reasonable articulation of this in his book What Are Journalists For?.
Here’s my problem: If this is the purpose of journalism, then any practice that interrupts it is unethical.
Before you get your shorts in a twist–I’m not calling Rosen unethical. I’m merely reinforcing something that Rosen himself has already claimed: that the model he’s proposing leaves journalists, including those good editors, somewhat at the mercy of the very thing that challenges them ethically when they practice journalism for commercial institutions–money. To choose money over “the information that people need to make public life work,” for any reason, will give a good journalist a dose of heartache. And that’s why I like the “good editors” retort.
[Editor's Note: You may have noticed that the definition of "good" plays a crucial persuasive role here. I'm thinking that it might not include many of the inchoate ethical practices listed in the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists. I'm thinking it identifies a quality of professional practice something like Kovach & Rosenstiel's list in The Elements of Journalism (linked above). In other words, by unyoking from the commercial institution, NewAssignment.net also has the opportunity to assert a new ethics for journalism--one that articulates and defends the virtues of journalism rather than provides cover for the collective rump of the commercial institution.]