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Is journalism on its last legs?

A News.com reader writes that professional journalism is being crushed as an unintended consequence of technology adoption.


Is journalism on its last legs?

In response to the Dec. 4 column by CNET News.com's Jennifer Balderama, "Where Internet promises remain unfulfilled":

What a great topic to engage. I have a few thoughts about this that complement this column. It starts with me not being a journalist in any way, but having a great sense that the journalism profession is disintegrating before our eyes.

I watched how the media handled election 2000 and the anthrax terrorism, for instance, and could not help but conclude that the profession is on its last legs.

I think professional journalism is being crushed as an unintended consequence of technology adoption--basically cable TV and the Internet. My naive perspective on good professional journalism comes from the movie about Woodward and Berstein's Watergate investigation, "All the President's Men."

I have a sense that the profession is based on preparation followed by telling the tale. Whether it is the work of preparing tomorrow's newspaper or tonight's news, the role of journalists and editors was clearly driven by creating a solid picture of some event.

Technology has moved the news to a real-time data relay role, where press releases, press conferences, the latest events published by reporters through newswires, reports of the other media players, interviews with specialists or analysts, and interviews with connected parties, advocates and others are published raw rather than weaved into a clear and verifiable picture.

The time and investment it takes to do a really good job is in direct contrast to the need of the news organization to feed the public the latest relevant data.

The anthrax terrorism is a particularly huge journalistic opportunity missed. The flood of real-time data obscured what in the end will be news stories of a lifetime.

Not easy by any means, but there are at least two I can think of:

1. Why did the federal government handle the anthrax terrorism differently than the Sept. 11 bombing from a communications standpoint? (From "We are in absolute control, top down, know who it is, doing something about it," to "one incident at a time.") Was it purely reactive, or is there a message here?

2. Where is this attack coming from? All this data and opinion is floating out there, ready to be pulled together. The idea that this was a coincidence--that is, a separate attack by a separate individual or group who happened to have the material and a delivery strategy nailed down just as the Osama bin Laden team launched its attack--is pretty hard to take at face value.

Sadly, neither story fits anywhere in the media today. As a part of the public, it is hard to imagine how I would react to or grasp something like this--compared with the real-time feed of data.

As for the variety of editorial stances, what does it mean in a data-relay industry?

Patrick McGrath
Toronto, Canada