It contributes to the difficulties of being a journalist today.
While the traditional responsibilities of yesteryear –developing sources and producing well-developed news stories- remain, the way journalists carry out these tasks has changed considerably.
Source building now happens both online and offline.
Deciding which stories to actually produce-- stories about a potato or corruption in local government- entails enacting personal judgment, often to the dismay of others, and wading through a sea of information, again both online and offline, to decipher truth from fiction.
Additionally, journalists are forced to promote their work and themselves as brands.
This is done through social media, networking, holding community office hours and just being visible within the community.
Then, there’s the drama associated with online activity.
You have to grow a thick skin to take the criticism of your work, which often goes beyond professional critiques into personal territory. To boot, you may or may not have the support of your superiors.
Also, you are limited in your personal social media behavior.
Journalists have to take on this wide load of job responsibilities amid notoriously low salaries; long hours; a
strong likelihood that you’ll have to move around a couple of times to move up the position and pay ladder; and often little appreciation for their work beyond their peers in the industry.
All this makes you wonder why anybody would be crazy to sign up for this job, right?
The answer in short is somebody’s got to do it!
For some, it’s a calling; for others, it’s a job they don’t particularly like but they are good at it.
Regardless of the reason, journalists play an important role.
Journalism, otherwise known as the Fourth Estate, plays an important role in a democracy.
That relationship between journalism and democracy is the topic of this week’s discussion for #mc7019.
This week, we read Herbert J. Gans’” News & the News Media in the Digital Age: Implications for Democracy;” Robert McChesney’s “Farewell to Journalism? Time for a Rethinking; Nicco Mele’s “Big News;” Matthew Yglesias’ “The Glory Days of American Journalism;” and Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism’s “The State of the News Media 2013."
The Pew Research Center report “spotlights the dynamics of a kind of vicious cycle now taking place because of deep business problems in the news industry” (Pew Research Center, 2013).
The top findings from this cycle-- Journalists played a smaller role in shaping what voters heard about candidates and politicians found new ways to get information out, often with little to no journalism vetting.
Other effects of this cycle coupled with slashed staff reduced quantity of coverage include the following:
· Nearly one-third —31 percent– of people say they have deserted a particular news outlet
because it no longer provides the news and information they had grown accustomed to.
· Nearly 1,000 people surveyed said news stories are not as thorough as they were previously.
· Of the consumers who reported abandoning certain news outlets, 61 percent said the
decision was based on issues of quality, while 24 percent said there were not enough stories.
(Pew Research Center, 2013)
Additional findings included:
· Only about one quarter of the statements in the media about the character and records
of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney came directly from journalists while about half came from political partisans.
· Social media users took a dim view of both candidates
· Horserace coverage was down, but coverage of the issues didn’t fill that gap. In 2012, the
amount of coverage devoted to tactics, strategy and polls declined to 38%. But that attention to policy issues—both foreign and domestic—barely budged, inching up from to 22% in 2012.
· $2.9 Billion spent on political advertising
· Obama made greater use of social media messaging than Romney, but the overall conversation in social media was negative toward both men. In the period studied by Pew Research, for example, the Obama team produced about 25 times more Twitter posts than the Romney campaign. But on blogs, Twitter and Facebook, users were consistently more negative than positive about both candidates—although Romney fared somewhat worse.
(Pew Research Center, 2013)
I was not shocked by these findings.
I consider myself somewhat attune to the details of the last presidential election and journalism’s role in it.
News coverage has grown increasingly partisan, either to the pleasure or dissatisfaction of news consumers.
As a journalist, however, I would have liked to have seen more qualitative questions/answers in the survey about the news questions.
From previous experience, I know news consumers often make blanketed statements to describe all media coverage.
Regardless if a particular entity is guilty of the accusations waged against them, they get lumped into the singular category of “the news.”
I want to know examples of which purportedly objective stories news consumers actually found to be partisan in nature. The same goes for the news outlets themselves.
I also would have like to have seen examples of a story news consumers found to lack thoroughness.
In many cases, news consumers have little understanding of how news coverage works; therefore, they make low-information accusations on topics for which they are not truly familiar with.
Gans’ piece complemented the Pew findings, exploring the impacts on democracy presented by journalists’ dwindling role in delivering political information to the masses.
He discussed the bulwark theory.
According to Gans, the bulwark theory argues being informed also enables citizens to participate in politics, choose their political representatives, and instruct them on how they want to be represented.
As evidenced by several clips of Jimmy Kimmel’s “Confusing Question of the Day,” people are not as informed about political topics as they think they are.
Journalists’ role is to help keep citizens informed; thus enabling citizens to participate in the democratic process.
Journalists can fulfill their roles, according to Gans, by doing the following:
· Monitoring the Political Environment and Assuring the Country that the Polity Will Survive
· Reporting the Actions and Decisions of Elected Officials
· Airing Political Disagreements and Conflicts
· Defending Democratic Values
· Investigative reporting
New technologies, however, make it increasingly difficult for journalists to fulfill their job responsibilities.
The increase in opinion blogs masquerading as news and social media can and have resulted in uninformed citizens (Gans, 2010).
Furthermore, the decreasing role of journalists can result in “a return toward high levels of political corruption, incompetent policy-making, and governmental mismanagement” (Gans, 2013).
I’m going to reference an article that I’ve referenced before. I PROMISE I’ve done other articles during my years working as a journalist. You can Google my name for proof.
However, I often talk about this particular article because it was one of the first articles I did that had a major impact on the politics of a community and it impacted me both professionally and personally.
During my time working as a journalist, I did an in-depth look into candidates for county judge in Victoria County,
The story was unique because Matt Ocker, the Republican candidate, was running amid accusations of domestic abuse, assault and aggression in general. Meanwhile, the Democratic candidate had a record of arrests for driving while intoxicated.
You can read the story here.
Amid criticisms from both near and far, the story did what it was supposed to do—shined light on a possibly incompetent candidate who, if elected, exhibited a high propensity toward governmental mismanagement.
This piece took me months to finish.
In the beginning, I multitasked with other stories, but toward the end, I was able to focus on just this one.
Stories like this come to fruition when you have bosses who do what they can to ensure their newspaper fulfills its government watchdog duties and gives its reporters the support,time-wise, financially and emotionally, to get the job done.
Unfortunately, this kind of support is growing more and more rare among media outlets who thrive on a 24-hour news cycle.
Matthew Yglesias argues that people should “ignore the doomsayers” because the “news-reading public has never had more and better information at their fingertips” (Yglesias, 2013).
Journalists are producing more content than ever before.
“For people trying to make a living in journalism, the problems are real enough. But from a social viewpoint, these are excellent problems to have,” Yglesias wrote.
Gans offers up the following seven tips for journalists to continue their democratic contributions:
· Conduct more active reporting.
· Increase and broaden economic reporting.
· Cover citizen news.
· Report additional perspectives on America.
· Increase watchdogging.
· Make room for informed opinion.
· Enlarge the news audience.
Mchesney expresses similar sentiments.
These ideals are easier said than done, going back to mydiscussion on necessary support from those in charge.
In terms of big news, Mele wrote, “we don’t know yet whether sufficient resources are in place to enable journalism to fulfill its historic role as guardian of the public interest” (Mele, 2013).
I’ll never forget, but a news consumer told me once that “real journalists don’t work at the Victoria Advocate. They work for the New York Times.”
It’s unfortunate that some ignorant people have this mindset.
Reporters and editors at smaller media outlets possess just as much ability to exercise accountability and responsibility from government and corporate leaders as employees of other news outlets.
Also, in the midst of the financial crisis larger media outlets are enduring, many community newspapers are holding their own.
If called upon, these small outlet employees would be capable of providing the same coverage on a larger scale.
This is something news consumers should keep in mind as well as advertisers and news management.
I offer up these questions for discussion:
1. There is a fine line between freedom of speech and slander, one which many media companies have not yet learned to successfully maneuver in terms of managing online comments on political stories.
In recent years, many journalists have lost their jobs while defending themselves against slanderous comments that go beyond criticizing just the story. What are your thoughts on this situation? What can be done to better protect journalists without infringing on the rights of commenters?
2. What key insights from those articles and the Pew report in this lesson should news professionals be aware of as they consider the future of digital content and related business models?
3. What are your thoughts on non-profit journalism?
4. Should the demands of the audience drive how journalism develops going forward?
5. Is including readers in the journalistic process actually good for journalism and democracy, or is it a form of pandering?
6. At what point should news outlets draw the line between appeasing consumers and upholding standards of journalism?