Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Journalism and the long view

Note: This is the third and final column in a series based on questions posed to former Post Register Managing Editor Dean Miller, who is now the director of the Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook University.

Not only does no one know what the future holds for journalism, very few people even pretend to know any more.

"You ask what the future of news is? I have no friggin' idea. No one does."

That was Jeff Jarvis a couple of years ago after becoming well known as a confident prognosticator of journalism's future.

Dean Miller is a pretty confident guy, too, but he won't take a guess at how the future of journalism will unfold.

“If I were a skillful predictor of dynamic situations, I wouldn’t be at the office on a Saturday because my home in the ‘Greater New York Metroplex’ is reduced to third-world utility service after a rainy wind storm,” he wrote to me when I asked for his prediction for journalism. He was willing, however, to recommend that journalists need to maintain a long view.

“It is more important than ever for journalists to play the long game and stick to what makes news different: verification, independence, accountability,” he wrote. “We’re still in the early days of digital publication. Anyone can crank out rumor, spin and hype and generate traffic for a little while, until someone even less scrupulous comes along. But the internet’s memory is longer than what we’re used to and I think those players who pretend to be journalists in order to win a battle or two will lose the war and spend years explaining themselves.”

 I believe this, too. While the delivery mechanisms will continue to change and stylings evolve, journalism will continue to matter.
     
Miller points out that shows like Jon Stewart’s Daily Show or the Colbert Report wouldn’t work if the audiences weren’t already familiar with the actual news being disseminated by real journalists. I take some comfort in that, despite surveys indicating that many Americans under 35 say Stewart is their main source for news.
     
Can news consumers really tell the difference between the satirical Onion, MSNBC and the Wall Street Journal? The answer is probably yes, but many still get tripped up from time to time. Members of Congress have been known to issue opinions on fictitious “news” stories from sources like The Onion. Message boards and social media are chock full of false assertions made by people who lack either the skills or the desire to separate fact from opinion and outright fiction.
     
Still, in this Age of Entertainment, there remain serious-minded journalists committed to producing credible, compelling, relevant and accurate reporting – the signal amidst the noise – to borrow a phrase from statistician Nate Silver. Solid journalism is out there, for those who seek it.

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