Well folks, this journalism program is almost over. We graduate tomorrow. I worked my last day at The Georgetowner today. It is so bittersweet. Chances are this is my last blog post as part of the program, though I may do an update this weekend on tomorrow’s activities. I also have a list or two in mind for this trip like the Italy and England ones I’ve done before. Check back for more this weekend, but until then: here is my final blog of the Semester in Washington Journalism Program at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
We are told that there is a war raging. One that will define the future of the Fourth Estate, and thus, democracy itself.
Jefferson, Franklin, Madison and the rest of the Founders knew that communication with the People was the essential element of functioning democracy. How will people know to vote and what/whom to vote for if not for a means of communicating across the growing number of states?
“The Media” is as old as town criers and messengers sent across ancient civilizations. Print journalism is nearly as old as the printing press itself. Yet, the world never really saw anything like the change brought about by cyberspace.
It’s true; the internet deserves to be the change that divides the history of journalism into old and new. Perhaps in a few hundred years, there will be O.M. and N.M. to denote years in the media’s past like B.C. and A.D. Who knows?
What we do know is that the media is not dying. Nor is it already dead. There will be a need to refer to the present struggles of the field as old and new because it does have a future.
There will always be a need to communicate. People will turn to the most credible sources they know to receive information about the world around them and far away. The difference is that instead of shuffling through newspaper pages to find movie listings, classifieds, comics, sports updates and special deals at the store, they are currently turning to their built-in Wi-Fi laptops. These laptops also provide consumers with a gateway into the world of news aggregation, with the ability to get their world news from BBC, politics from Politico and financial news from Wall Street Journal all day, constantly updated in 140 characters.
Already, the tool of the laptop is being exchanged for smartphones that have many capabilities that not only improve on their predecessors, PDAs, but deliver information faster and more portably than the laptops themselves. Granted, this technology all has a long way to go before it can be deemed reliable, easy to read or cheap, but there is no doubt that it’s sheer potential is already changing the way the media world defines itself.
Don’t be deceived by the above example, either. While the major players (BBC, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, Fox, etc.) do have an important role, they are the antithesis of the true value to democracy that this new media world provides. Without saying that it does do this, but the internet has the potential to, in fact, save pure journalism, contrary to popular belief.
Imagine, a world in which asking questions or making comments on a news report is not as pointless as yelling at a television or writing in the margins of the newspaper. Not long ago, this would have been a revolutionary idea. Now, it is quite normal (and a debate in and of itself) for a news outlet to have a comments or feedback section on their website, if not on every article, video and social media profile.
What does this mean? Accountability for the watchdogs. The ability to present more sides to a story than a journalist can gather. A public doing its own “relating,” thank you very much.
Yes, the change is costing jobs. Jobs that I will soon be applying for. Yet, in all the chaos and misuse, we cannot lose sight of why we commit journalism in the first place. It’s not about us. It’s about the public we serve. We must provide what they need and want to know, in the best way possible, or all we are doing is preserving ourselves instead of democracy.
There will always be ranting bloggers and pointless tweeters with news about their cat or their breakfast or their hatred of all we do as “the media.” Before new media, they wrote letters to the editor and called in every other day at 4:55 p.m. (and always when we needed to call every business in the area that closed at 5.)
Still, there is an essential need for the media to transition into the new world, just as their audience has or will. As Dana Priest said in a recent live chat Q&A with readers on the Washington Post’s website: “web journalism does NOT mean opinionated blather. It can mean more journalism, presented in a different fashion.”
Let us never lose sight of the place of technology, no matter how dramatically it affects our field. It is a tool. Nothing more. We do need to learn to use this tool to the best of our abilities, but at the end of the day we will still be doing what we are called to do: present the truth as objectively, and from as many sides, as possible. We will tell stories. We will speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. We will shoot and write the first draft of history.
The tools we use will always change. The principles we live and work by should not.