Thursday, April 12, 2007

No Matter The Numbers, Journalists Need To Be Spartans

A recent article by Michael Schudson and Tony Dokoupil in the Columbia Journalism Review gave some new perspective to the current wave of "cost-cutting, job-eliminating, and bureau-closing" that is apparently indicative that journalism is believed to be an industry in crisis.

But judging by all the j-school nonsense that's locking up the MediaBistro forums and TheGradCafe.com, as well as the immense proliferation of independent writing, I think journalism is doing better than ever - and journalists should stop worrying about numbers and start worrying about quality. Consider this approach: journalists need to fight like they are Spartans in the movie, "300."

Schudson and Dokoupil write:
At a glance, the news is indeed bad. A systematic, national survey of journalists, conducted by a team of Indiana University scholars led by David H. Weaver, shows that the total number of print and broadcast journalists fell from an estimated 122,000 to 116,000 between 1992 and 2002. That’s a real drop in journalists per 100,000 people from forty-eight to forty, with radio and daily newspapers accounting for the greatest losses. Few can doubt that the pace of decline has quickened over the past several years. But take a longer view and the trend is significant growth. Adjusting for U.S. population growth, journalism’s flock has expanded 20 percent over three decades, comparing the 2002 figure to Weaver’s previous counts in 1992 and 1982–3, and a 1971 survey by the sociologist John Johnstone. (Absolute growth was 67 percent—from 70,000 journalists in 1971 to 116,000 in 2002.)

With all of the overhaul going on all over the industry - newspapers tightening their flabby printed guts (and newsrooms), new skyscrapers being erected, tons of new online content in the form of blogs, slideshows, podcasts and more - how is journalism stagnant?

Apparently, online-only outlets and freelancing aren't a part of these numbers, and I'd say that renders this survey useless. In this age, it's all about writing on your own. Hell, even Seventeen's former editor-in-chief Atoosa Rubenstein felt the independent fire and jumped the MSM ship, and she's apparently happier than ever.

OK, so we've established quite unscientifically that journalism is on the up-and-up instead of heading to a slump (it's about as reliable as that survey was, anyway. Our CJR authors would agree: "Lowrey’s essay is a reminder that estimating the total number of journalists has become as much a matter of philosophical argument as of careful methodology").

Journalists shouldn't be worried about how many are in their ranks. They should be worried about their reputation. Like Spartans.

For example, just this week, CBS News was caught with its head in the sand after a producer plagiarized the Wall Street Journal, arguably the most read paper in the nation. The incredible stupidity of plagiarism on that level - for a bit for Katie Couric - is so unbelieveable that even I'm worrying about how I'll be perceived when I say, "I'm a journalist."

So when University of Alabama professor Wilson Lowrey says the competition between blogs and journalists - which I extrapolate to mean independent journalists and MSM - "could benefit audiences and society" by pressuring each to be more accurate and filling empty information niches, I say great.

If we write (and fight) better, maybe there is hope after all. Then I'll be proud to say I'm a Spartan. Er, a journalist.

1 comment:

aulelia said...

The problem I think with journalists today (from a British soaked perspective) is that there is just so much jealousy and competition.

Some journalists look down at bloggers and some don't even see online clips as concrete as print versions: these hierarchies are what is stopping journalism from flourishing. I completely agree with you that journalism is doing just fine, it is experiencing this renaissance especially with blogs. The issue is some journalists only care about their reputations even more than their writing.

I feel that way about AA Gill. He seems to thrive off his reputation and it has served him well: already writing in Vanity Fair for that April or was it March issue? Either way, journalists are becaming celebrities these days. So I think those numbers will be skyrocketing in this fame-obsessed world we live in.

I was trawling through the web about internship advice and I found one of your posts. Brilliant site - some people on mediabistro were beginning to irk me.