Who controls journalism’s future?

The statements by James Poniewozik of TIME in the entry below have been tugging at me ever since I read them, for Poniewozik has raised difficult questions for journalism.

I’ve written about this subject many times before, so regular readers here will know that I believe journalism is in good hands, can take care of itself, and that those who use the phrase “real journalism” to argue against any apparently “unreal” journalists are probably the least real of all. The institution of professional journalism, which is what’s being disrupted, is the fruit of Walter Lippmann’s elitist, social engineering dreams, so I’m not convinced it’s in need of saving. That belief, however, doesn’t merrily dismiss all that is professional. Like most things, this is not “all or nothing,” which is why I find Poniewozik’s statements so remarkable.

When people ask me to define a journalist, I always start with the first paragraph from the book of Luke:

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write {it} out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.

In this sense, Luke is acting as a journalist. He didn’t have a degree from Medill, nor did he have a code of ethics by which to abide, only his investigation of eyewitness accounts and the events themselves. Now, you don’t have to believe the account to appreciate Luke’s role as a journalist, and this, I think, is the nut of the whole mess involving trust with contemporary journalism.

By and large, journalists of every stripe will tell you that they are in the pursuit of truth, and they resent ANY suggestion to the contrary. This supposes, however, that there is such a thing as objective truth in any matter, and therein lies the rub. In the above, Luke’s message to Theophilus is one of “exact truth,” and we all know where such absolutism has gotten us. So the best we can say is that Luke’s account was his best effort at that “truth,” and so it is with every journalist.

The problem, of course, in a postmodern world is that there are many variations of truth, and this is the very heart of the matter between professional journalism’s version of truth and that of the multi-perspective blogosphere. The more the Big-Js cling to their view of objective truth, the harder it’s going to be to sustain it, and the wider will grow the gap between a questioning public and the press.

And it is the public, after all, that controls journalism’s future.


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