The importance of professional media in a democratic society

Recently I got involved in an online discussion about the importance of “traditional” media and why it’s important to any democratic society. The debate stemmed from a blog article about a speech, given by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Chris Hedges (http://mrmagazine.wordpress.com/2009/04/24/on-the-decline-of-journalism-and-other-words-of-wisdom-from-chris-hedges/#comment-7673). I actually agree with most that Chris said. Here’s my take on the subject of the declining newspaper business and challenging media environment across all channels.

Many bloggers consider themselves “journalists” or “reporters”, but are more “commentators” than anything else. Journalism is a profession, bound by a code of ethics and requires a certain mindset and a lot of skill (like every other profession, it surely does have its bad apples). While the Web does provide a lot of opportunities, at the same time it undermines the income source for journalists. Finding the story and exposing different sides of it are not something that everyone can do. The Web does indeed have many examples of serious and dedicated writing and reporting (although most of it is on the sites of established media channels) but it is far surpassed by the amount of junk our there. But that’s another debate.

Journalists are professionals (they are getting paid to do this), regardless of what anyone things about quality of their pieces is. The blogosphere is great for sharing ideas, but most of it is fueled by the exhibitionistic and voyeuristic nature of humanity (nothing bad there, that’s what keeps both traditional and nontraditional media in business). The piece that’s missing is long-term focus and dedication. Consistent reporting requires dedication, which, to be sustainable, most of the time requires some kind of an incentive, that’s a bit more than the desire to be seen and heard (a good income would be a start). The Web fails to provide the necessary income for the vast majority of bloggers to sustain their long-term interest in reporting. There are so many blogs out there that are left only after a few entries. Unfortunately, the blogosphere and most unconventional “news” sites look like a water cooler

Media is indeed one of the most important guards of democracy. And a demise of professional media would usher in an informational anarchy, not democracy!

These are challenging times for the media industry (and for almost everyone else for that matter), but professional news outlets will and should continue one way or another.

The current situation with newspapers and media reminds me of the music sharing debate in the 90’s. I actually, like you, thought that the traditional model is gone and that the music industry will never be able to get back to being profitable and viable… that music will be done by well-spirited online musicians. Yet, musicians have to eat too. Kudos to the music industry for finding solutions relatively quickly – from fighting online downloads to producing more live concerts to charging by the song. What the music industry went through is what we in the media industry are going through right now! It’s up to us where it goes from here.

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