For the past few years, journalists bemoaned the bleak state of their industry. Conferences and meetings were somber affairs full of grim discussions about the future. Now, however slightly and tentatively, that seems to be changing. There seem to be more conversations about what is working, or at least what might be possible.
With Labor Day marking the start of a new season, and a presidential election rapidly approaching, it’s a good time to reflect. So, CJR asked a small group of peers and colleagues if we are really turning the corner from pessimism to optimism, or just growing tired of complaining. We asked:
1) Are you more optimistic or pessimistic about the future of journalism than you were four years ago? What’s changed?
2) Who or what is the most inspiring sign that things might be getting better?
Alex Cohen, host of All Things Considered on Southern California Public Radio
I feel like it’s a mixed bag. On the one hand, I am pessimistic. I do worry that there is a less of a value placed on good journalism than there was four years ago. I am saddened to see skilled colleagues lose their jobs and valuable publications closing their doors. On the other hand, there are new innovations in storytelling every day. I think some “old school” journalists are finally embracing that new technologies are here to stay and can actually be allies in good journalism. When I see radio journalists who can actually remember cutting tape to make stories, enthusiastically raving about Instagram and using Twitter to cull sources, I believe that tides are turning in a good way.
To me the most inspiring sign that things are getting better is that people are still applying to journalism school. In this economy, that’s a very brave move and yet thousands are doing it each day. That gives me hope that people still do value this profession. And I believe that those coming into this profession do so with a new vigor and creativity that may have been lacking in generations past. I feel the key is to make sure that these younger generations get a proper education when it comes to values and ethics and we’ll be in good stead.
Andrew Donohue, editor of the Voice of San Diego
I’m more optimistic than I was four years ago. I was pretty optimistic back then too, because we were beginning to see the signs of new organizations and new models for storytelling and reporting. Now, those new models continue to multiply and mature in both new organizations and long-time institutions.
The most inspiring sign to me is that our profession is really valuing and celebrating creativity. That’s leading to a revolution in how we do everything. How we fund our operations. How we engage audiences. How we report and tell stories. There’s no doubt we still face major challenges as an industry and aren’t by any stretch out of the woods. But when you couple those advances with the fact that social media and other tools are forcing us to be more accountable to the public, yes, I’m optimistic.
Claire Enders, UK Media Analyst
Journalism and commercially viable, large scale news businesses are two very different topics. From the perspectives of research, access and distribution, this is a wonderful time to be a journalist, as digital provides rapid and deep research techniques, excellent collaboration tools, inexpensive video and audio technologies and extraordinarily flexible and effective distribution options. Nonetheless, it is complicated. The reputation of journalists, at least in the UK, has been somewhat volatile, with the parliament members’ expenses scandal and the systematic exposure of the News of the World phone hacking scandal reminding consumers of the importance of organized newsrooms, but the latter also confirming the worst fears of some journalists’ behavior.
Separately, in an increasingly social and connected world, the perceived need for organised journalism and curation, in magazines as well as newspapers, has been through a complex cycle. My sense is that, until relatively recently, the last decade has seen a systematic decline in this perceived need for journalism and curation, particularly among younger demographics, and that more recently there are positive signs that the perception of the need for journalism and curation in society generally has not just stabilized but grown again. I am sure this is the result of the ‘endless ocean’ of the social Web stimulating our collective need for selection, for authority, and for clarity. I feel very positive about the the future when I see the robust and growing sales figures of wonderful publications such as the Economist and the Week. The need for intelligence, insight and a curated roadmap through our increasingly complex world is becoming a more, not less, valuable tool in our endlessly connected lives.