The future of journalism

This past week, the San Francisco Chronicle announced that they’re in danger of closing.  Obviously, it’s been a tough few years for the newspaper business (and print journalism in general: see here and here), but this announcement struck especially close to home for me.  After all, the Chronicle is where I spent my internship while a CCA student, and it’s also the main paper for which I freelanced.

But more worrisome is that it’s becoming all too clear that the future of journalism is uncertain.  I think in the last couple years, when you heard about mass layoffs at the LA Times and NY Times — distressing as it was — most folks saw these cutbacks as the solution (albeit a temporary one), and that ultimately, major American newspapers would survive.  Sure, smaller dailies from podunk towns might go under, but papers like the Chronicle?  The Trib?  They’d always be around.

What we’re seeing now is that this is not the case at all.  I was well aware in 2007 just how much the Chron was losing each week (confirmed this week to be in the neighborhood of $1M), but I guess I never thought about the day they would have to fold.  The idea that a major metropolitan city like San Francisco could go without a daily news source is unthinkable.  Where are we supposed to get our news?  And I mean the REAL news?

It’s ironic that I should write about this on my blog, when many consider blogs to be a big part of the problem.  So many of us — myself included — now turn to the Internet, or blogs or Twitter feeds to get our updates.  But the reality is, the news comes from somewhere, and that somewhere is reporters.  Journalists.  People who are talented writers and researchers, who get to the bottom of a story and are determined to get the truth out to the public, so that they can make decisions about what’s happening in the world around them.  Along with teaching, I believe it to be one of the noblest professions around.

I’m writing about this because I’m very anxious to see how news will be reported without newspapers and without people investigating stories each day.  Will bloggers and news websites hire out correspondents?  Is that where all these out of work journalists will go?  Or will bloggers try to fill the vacuum and write the news themselves?  And if they do, how can we possibly put our faith in them as reporters, when they’re often untrained writers and aren’t required to adhere to journalistic ethics?  I’m nearly certain that broadcast journalism will have to place more emphasis on using new and social media to spread the news — CNN already has (Did you live-Facebook the inauguration?  Because I did.).  Blogging amazes me everyday with how quickly ideas can be generated and spread across the world, which can be a great thing.  But when it comes to news, there is no way we can rely on blogs as reputable, trustworthy news generators (minus any on-the-scene type reporting, of course).

What’s also important to me here is the fact that journalism — in all its forms — is essential to democracy.  The people cannot be expected to make decisions about their leaders, their communities, and all the other problems and issues we collectively and individually face without access to good, accurate information.  How can we keep our leaders accountable, or throw our support towards wars or initiatives when we know nothing about them?

Though I’m sad for the inevitable demise of newspapers, I do accept that it’s probably a natural progression, given the advent of new media.  But still.  This question of “where will the news come from?” is an important one, not just for information junkies like me, but for the country as a whole.

Hmm…I wonder if the print journalism major headcount is down at SC?

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