The concerns about journalism’s path, too, remain relevant. And not just the many involving Rupert Murdoch. The admonitions take familiar shapes. In CJR’s inaugural issue, Lawrence Pinkham reviewed a book titled, provocatively for the time, The Fading American Newspaper. “The main theme,” Pinkham wrote, “running erratically through the book, is that American newspapers, faced with the double necessity of staying in business and staying in journalism, have placed the demands of the cash register ahead of informing the public, and, as a result, have lost much of their reason for existence.”

Sounds familiar, right? There’s a plus ça change quality to many of the concerns articulated about journalism’s future, which is both frustrating—can’t we figure things out already?—and reassuring. The challenges that journalists historically have faced may vary in their form, but not, for the most part, in their function. For fifty years, we’ve been asking ourselves: Where is the line between honest analysis and dispassionate objectivity? How does amateur expertise affect professional journalism? How (and to what extent) do we ensure that journalism has, ultimately, real-world impact? How, if at all, should the industry adapt to changing technologies? A 1976 piece on the influence of cable TV quoted a report by the nonpartisan Committee for Economic Development: “If the move from scarcity to abundance in communications does not guarantee better or more complete information, if it only guarantees more, then it may well serve no constructive purpose.” A 1991 article on the new ubiquity of camcorders wonders what the empowerment of amateur videographers will mean for professional journalists. An article from the next year, on “newspapers’ identity crisis,” finds a Knight Ridder executive making a still-familiar observation about the future of print: “I don’t see print disappearing. But I see it taking a different form.” (He adds, ominously, presciently: “I’m not convinced the majority of newspaper companies will be in business in the next century.”)

And then there are the predictions—framed not as predictions at all, but as future-oriented declarations of fact. The kind of declarations that make you think, in retrospect, “How did they know that?” There’s, again, the iPad thing. There’s Ronald Kriss, in 1976, discussing the upcoming “ ‘wired nation’—a universal medium that would not only carry greatly expanded educational, cultural, and civic programming but would permit two-way communication with its audience and bring into being dial-a-libraries, facsimile newspapers, remote-controlled shopping, data transmission, banking by wire, electronic mail delivery, and instant national referenda.” There’s Dwight Morris declaring, in 1988, that “computer-assisted journalism is the new future of this business.” There’s our friend Roger Fidler, who, the author of a 1989 article suggested, “can see the day coming when large newspapers will have to develop a market niche to give them strong followings.” There’s Doug Underwood remarking, in 1992, that “as newspapers join the electronic competition, newspaper journalists are likely to find themselves ever more subject to the forces of technological change, the demands of perpetually updating the news for electronic services, and the pressure to think of their work in marketing terms.” There’s Dominique Wolton observing, in 1979, that “there is an increasing risk that journalistic work devoted to the coverage of general information will become less significant, and that the number of reporters covering such news will decline.” And then saying that “the failure to come to grips with a shift in the idea and distribution of information exposes newspapers to the risk of becoming an elite medium, leaving the electronic media to cater to the information tastes of the mass audience.” There’s Paul Saffo declaring, in 1996, that “the future belongs to neither the conduit nor the content players, but to those who control the filtering, searching, and sense-making tools we will rely on to navigate through the expanses of cyberspace.”

And: there are the doubts about the new mediums and new tools that news reporting has at its disposal, tools that expand—and, so, implicitly change—the craft of journalism, like computer-assisted reporting. Steve Weinberg’s 1982 profile of early car journalists quotes a colleague of Chicago Sun-Times reporter Thomas J. Moore: “Our economy is falling apart and here’s Moore playing with his expensive toy. He’s a smart guy and a good reporter who should be on the street, using his sources.”

The large dailies, Fidler told Doug Underwood, have been “arrogant about the future. They’ve looked at the technology with skepticism. But I think that’s a mistake. There’s a real threat there.” Jon Katz followed up in a 1992 piece about TV’s continuing effects on journalism: “The news media persist—at their peril—in covering this revolution as an amalgam of toys, or as more bad habits for kids. It is, in fact, a new culture of information, profoundly reshaping the leisure time and information habits of tens of millions of Americans.”

What Is a Journalist? (Parts 1-215)

Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.