Journalists to blame for decline of newspapers

Thursday, October 9, 2008

By Austin Bates

I hadn't considered this before, but at least one person, Jeff Jarvis, thinks that journalists can be held responsible for the continuing decline of the newspaper industry. While his article is well-thought out as well as thought provoking, I have mixed feelings on the issue.

On one hand I tend to think of and see journalists as being just another batch of workers at just another for-profit company, their decisions counting for little in the day to day operations of the business itself.

On the other hand, I tend to think of journalists as almost artists, working in a trade-craft that is one part pure skill and aptitude, and one part desk job, but one where what you do counts, and your name appears on everything you do and say. In this view, journalists are the guts of newspapers, and editors are just their mentors and guides, and the people who run the newspaper at the top are just the ones held responsible for writing the checks and dealing with the "business stuff".

I suppose that neither of these views is wrong or right. In the end, the truth is probably a little closer to both.

One memorable series of statements from Jarvis is this:

It is our fault that we did not see the change coming soon enough and ready our craft for the transition. It is our fault that we did not see and exploit — hell, we resisted — all the opportunities new media and new relationships with the public presented. It is our fault that we did not give adequate stewardship to journalism and left the business to the business people. It is our fault that we lost readers and squandered trust. It is our fault that we sat back and expected to be supported in the manner to which we had become accustomed by some unknown princely patron. Responsibility and blame are indeed ours.

I can't disagree with any particular part of that. Journalists, in being the front-line workers most exposed to the realities of the "craft", do have some responsibility for constantly adapting and molding it to what the future will demand. Their work at least partly determines whether a paper will just survive or thrive. Like the American voter, journalists have to do something if they want to see a change for the better.

By far, one of the biggest criticisms have been that the newspaper industry (and thus, part of journalism) had failed to embrace the budding technologies of the Internet. At a time when everything else is connected, some papers still have yet to become integrated with the World Wide Web. Journalists, if they have failed to try out new things or go out on a limb and attempt to use the new frontier, should be held somewhat responsible for this failure of the papers.

In the end, I think everyone is to blame for the decline of the newspapers, and of journalism it seems. The newspaper execs and editors are responsible for their lack of pushing or requiring the new frontiers, and journalists are responsible for not experimenting and moving out of their comfort zones to seek new ways of reporting. So now that the blame has been cast about, what are they, we, going to do about it?


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