May 20, 2009

The Future of Journalism

I have no idea what the future of journalism will be. I’m not even prepared to speculate about what it won’t be. But I have been telling students for five years now exactly what Josh Marshall told students at Columbia University:

Despite the financial and, perhaps, existential crisis journalism is facing (“you don’t have to look very hard for Cassandras saying it’s a dying business,” Marshall noted)—and also because of those crises—“there’s no time…that I would rather enter the profession than right now,” Marshall said. “It’s the people entering the profession now who are going to create the publishing models, the business models, that are going to shape journalism in the 21st century.”

Marshall is an excellent example of his own speculation. He’s running a successful news organization. Does it operate like a newspaper? No. Does it follow all the craft rules? No. Is it always recognizable as traditional journalism? No. Does it hide behind a false objectivity? No.

I am not claiming that Talking Points Memo is entirely new or represents the future. It still operates with some of the “systematized accidents of history” Marshall alludes to. What it does do, for me, is offer an example of how journalism might be imagined by my students because they will have to re-imagine it. They have absolutely no choice in the matter. Welcome to the revolution; it’s yours, like it or not. Make of it what you will.

How will they do this. Marshall is spot-on again:

We need to bring a critical sensibility not only to our thinking about the journalism, Marshall suggested, but to journalism itself. We need to foster forms of journalism—and build publishing models—that, in turn, foster the “constant process of re-examination that is absolutely critical to our own work.”

Remember this? “I know journalism. What I am unwilling to do is teach it uncritically.” A big part of what I do (what I hope I do) is teach and then challenge the “systematized accidents of history.” Education happens in the “challenge” part, the critical part. In other words, it’s never been more damned important than right now to send young journalists into the world with good critical thinking skills, i.e. the courage and skill to question everything about the craft and business of journalism while not being bound to “systematized accidents of history” or even their own new ideas.

It’s all up for grabs.

Even newspaper journalism? Hmmmmmm…

3 Responses

  1. Jack 

    The same applies to education.

  2. Tim 

    Why journalists deserve low pay

    Journalists are not professionals with a unique base of knowledge such as professors or electricians. Consequently, the primary economic value of journalism derives not from its own knowledge, but in distributing the knowledge of others.

  3. acline 

    Tim… I think that’s accurate. Distributing the knowledge of others so that it is useful is certainly a skill one can acquire and be judged for performance. The skill I’m referring to is part of the stuff of the “systematized accidents of history.” What I’m arguing for is the acquisition and deployment of new skills, or, perhaps, old skills put to better use. What these skills command in terms of pay is up to the market to decide.