RIP Journalism and Integrity

The internet “reduces opinion diversity of opinion”. Not only that, but it’s also responsible for “less minority and female ownership” and declining job numbers for journalists.

I know many of you are looking at that and going “WTF Paul, are you delirious? Did you have a bad curry or something? It’s obviously blown what little remains of your mind!”.

No, I’m not suffering a bout of dementia, those are in fact, the opinions of Michael Coops, a commissioner with the Federal Communications Commissions and it’s former acting chairman. Not only are they his opinion, but they are opinions he expressed in an internal report examining the state of media journalism in America according to

“We’re not only losing journalists, we may be losing journalism,” he said. “Some blame the Internet and bloggers, and that’s certainly a part of the story. All that consolidation and mindless deregulation, rather than reviving the news business, condemned us to less real news, less serious political coverage, less diversity of opinion, less minority and female ownership, less investigative journalism and fewer jobs for journalists.”

Now, far be it from me to moan about the current state of journalism. My last post attacked CNN for having zero journalistic integrity and essentially making lies up to drive readership. I’ve also publicly decried all those bloggers who consider themselves journalists and serious reporters but in all honesty are “me too” hacks sitting at their desks in pajamas stuffing their fat faces with Doritos.

Neither, do I consider myself a journalist. I’m just a guy with an opinion, which is something I’ll get to in a minute.

The simple fact of the matter is that the internet, not blogging or social media which occurs there, is not responsible for the decline in quality journalism.

Human nature is responsible for the decline. People love to be informed, we love to keep up to date, we love to talk to our friends and get the latest “gossip”. You know, Jennie’s pregnant, Rosie’s sleeping with Jim, Carol and Kristen just had a fight and broke up. That sort of thing.

The internet has provided us with mediums to gossip with an exponentially larger circle of “friends” and at a much quicker pace.

Yet the tools that now provide us with a platform to gossip also facilitate the discussion of news beyond the local gossip. They allow us to discuss matters that were previously the sole realm of the journalists and editors of the print and mainstream news machine.

Coops has said that we’re not just losing journalists, we’re losing journalism. Coops is sorely mistaken, at least about losing journalists. We have more of them than ever, they just lack the means to do their jobs.

The internet may provide the platform for you or anybody to express their opinion, but the ability to express your opinion is not what sets journalists apart from the Doritos eating, pajama-clad blogger.

Integrity, a work ethic, and a pay check is what sets a journalist apart.

You may wonder why I mention the pay check. For me, it’s fundamental, because a journalist has a responsibility to be accurate and honest, a responsibly to their readers far beyond that of any blogger, simply because they are paid to.

They produce the content, their publisher, editor etc.. approves it, we consume it and we pay to consume it, via one medium or another, which means that in a very direct way the journalists responsibility is to us.

The journalist works for the readers. Not the newspaper. The newspaper facilitates the distribution of the journalists news, but at the end of the day makes it’s money off of the arrangement between the journalist and the reader: the content creator and the person paying to consume said content.

Which again brings me back to human nature and gossip. Gossip is news without research. Mary tells Ann, who tells Peter, who tells Sharon who tells Jack something completely different that gets posted to Twitter.

Journalists are supposed to provide us with news, or in other words are supposed to provide us with the gossip that has been vetted by them and they are saying is correct. As they are being paid to vouch for this gossip, we take it as news.

Yet journalists are human. As more and more new media news outlets crop up, we get to hear from more and more of these human journalists.

The problem with humans, is that the more of them you meet, the more of our flaws you get exposed to.

One of our biggest flaws is that a lot of us humans are innately lazy. If there is a short cut we’ll take it.

See where I’m going with this? The more journalists we’re exposed to, the more of their flaws we’ll see and that will lead us to spot the lazy ones who only regurgitate news to publish unsubstantiated gossip.

Sounds a lot like the differences between bloggers doesn’t it?

Despite Coops claims of it reducing diversity of opinion the internet has provided us with the tools to give everybody, regardless of race, color, creed, sex or location to express our opinions. To be bloggers and (if only in our minds eye) journalists.

Yet, in giving everybody the ability to report gossip and throw their opinion into the ring, the verified “from the horses mouth” truth gets lost in the noise.

It’s also created an issue for the real journalists out there as they are feeling pressure from those above them to compete with the immediacy of the gossipers.

Let’s get one thing clear: Journalists can never compete with gossip on rapidity of dissemination.

It’s like living in a small town. You can’t do anything without people gossiping about it and usually your mother knows what you were doing before you’ve even done it.

The key to making journalism successful lies in the fact that journalists are expected to have integrity because they are paid by us to have it. They are paid to do the research. They are paid to verify the story.

They are paid to provide trust.

Twitter is great for breaking news, blogs are great for opinion, but only paid journalists provide the trust that drives real loyal, returning, paying readership.

The issue here is not the internet. It is money.

There will always be jobs for journalists because as much as people love gossip, they hate being lied to, intentionally or not.

If newspapers and mainstream media would simply realize that they do not need to compete with the immediacy of blogging and social media then they will be taking a step in the right direction.

If they realize that their business is not in fact providing the news, but providing trust worthy accurate news, then they’ll be taking a step in the right direction.

If they realize, that it’s simply human nature for people to gravitate towards trusted sources they’ll realize just what it is they need to be doing.

Journalists provide the vital function of delivering that trust but, as the numbers of people aspiring to be journalist increases, so do the number of people who may have a flair for writing but little integrity or work ethic.

This is what “old media” publishers need to be worried about. Diluting the value of the journalist by providing any old hack with a paid mouth piece.

The way forward is to strengthen the bond between journalist and consumer and this is done by putting mechanisms in place to ensure that what the journalist is reporting is as accurate as possible.

The internet has provided journalists, lazy and not, the means to get access to exponentially increased volumes of gossip that ever before. The publishers need to ensure that the journalists are not exploiting this, or being put under pressure to publish unresearched gossip as news.

Publishers need to help journalists provide trust. Help them develop the means to verify sources and information gathered from the wild west of gossip reporting that is social media.  To help them discover the truth amongst the gossip and opinion.

If they can help them build their trust value, their integrity, their reputation as a worthy outlet for news, then the money will flow and there will be more jobs and respect for real journalists.

The world needs journalists to be that mainstay of integrity because there isn’t much of it amongst the gossiping, marketing and spam driven social media world and I, for one, fear integrity’s death completely to the advertising buck!

2 thoughts on “RIP Journalism and Integrity

  1. hi
    great post.
    am from another economy ( i use that term, rather than the term country – intentionally)/ . Here it is almost as though MSM has sold out to advertiser rupee and mass audience. Hence, news rarely covers anything that doesn't impact either. So, we are stuck with MSM -both print and TV – reporting only the big cities, celebrities, sport & controversial politics . I get the bulk of the news – including disasters, environment, education, and other areas of importance from blogs.

    I buy your point completely about integrity & trust of journalism as a medium & journalists as the watchdogs of our rights. They have got lazy. and their masters have sold out 😦 so botox is in ; credit card over charging is not. celeb couples are in – farmers commiting suicide for not being able to repay their debt is not ; stock market is in – companies overcharging us for utilities is not 😦 The attitude is – who will piss off the advertiser.

    There are blogs that are full of gossip/ vitriol / innuendo and there are blogs that aren't . i try and follow the latter and ignore the former . But, I agree – that unless MSM wakes up – it will be too late !

    btw – the economy is India.


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