Emily and I agree on a lot, so I’ll get straight to the main point of disagreement.
The cruel truth of the emerging networked news environment is that reporters are as disempowered as they have ever been, writing more often, under more pressure, with less autonomy, about more trivial things, than under the previous monopolistic regime.
The suggestion that the Internet has “disempowered” journalists is just not true. In a global context it is willfully wrong. But even in the narrow context of journalism in the US, to say that individual journalists are disempowered by a medium that allows for so much more individual reporting and publishing freedom is baffling. If this case is made in the newsroom context of reporters having too much to do, then maybe this is an institutional fault in misunderstanding the requirements of producing effective digital journalism. Unlike the pages and pages of newsprint and rolling twenty-four-hour news, there is no white space, no dead airtime to fill on the Internet. It responds to 140 characters as well as to five thousand words.
I don’t know, but I sense that her point about journalism being better off now in the “global context” is well-taken. As I say in the piece, there’s no proving any of this, but let’s grant the general point and hope we can hear more about how things are better around the world.
But regarding the idea that US reporters are more empowered today: Let’s just say we can both find testimonials that take opposite sides of the debate. She should see my inbox, for instance. “Everyone’s running around like rats,” is what a Wall Street Journal editor told me for my piece, “Hamster Wheel,” and I don’t think it would be hard to find that sentiment echoed in newsrooms around the country.
The Project for Excellence in Journalism, for one, backs me up:
In today’s newspapers, stories tend to be gathered faster and under greater pressure by a smaller, less experienced staff of reporters, then are passed more quickly through fewer, less experienced, editing hands on their way to publication.
And, to stay with my old paper as a case study, no one has yet responded to the data from “Hamster Wheel” showing that 13 percent fewer unionize WSJ reporters turned out nearly twice as many stories in 2008 as compared to a decade earlier. I also think it’s relevant that, as Ryan Chittum showed, that long-form reporting in the WSJ has, quantitatively speaking, dropped through the floor.
Thomas Frank, I think, made a compelling case last year (see the aptly titled: “Bright Frenetic Mills” [$$]) in Harper’s that intra-newsroom labor/management issues are implicated. To say that these need some thought is an understatement.
Emphasizing a key passage in the quote from Emily above, as commenter CW Anderson did below the post:
If this case is made in the newsroom context of reporters having too much to do, then maybe this is an institutional fault in misunderstanding the requirements of producing effective digital journalism.
Yes, that’s exactly the case I’m making—and that the FCC et al. are making—except that it’s an industry fault, not just an institutional one. And here is where the public intellectuals come into play.
I agree with future-of-news arguments about the benefits of networked news, engagement with readers, and new storytelling forms. But productivity and quality issues should be on the table, and they haven’t been.
In the end, it all boils down to the stories. My problem with future-of-news thinkers is that they seem to want to talk about everything else.