Here are the facts.
One: The Internet is changing the way newspapers function, creating a need for online aficionados on their staffs and a web-minded production every day.
Two: The economy is changing the way newspapers function. Staffs are smaller, elevating the value of multi-skilled journalists, and in some cases the belt tightening affects the professionalism of the production.
Three: Most people love to read most things on the Internet, including news.
Four: Most people don’t read things fully on the Internet, preferring instead to grab the main points and move onto other things.
So where, exactly, does that leave journalists themselves?
Coming into this trip to New York City and Washington, D.C., I figured that journalism, as a profession, was dying for a combination of reasons. I thought blogs were destroying the credibility of all online journalism with their ranting and fabricating. I thought the economy was creating the need for a flashier, attention-grabbing style of journalism, one not so concerned with accuracy or truth but more concerned with delivering readers. I thought that good newspapers were stepping into the ring with bad news outlets and the competition between the two would lower the overall quality of journalism. When the definition of “journalist” is “he that can usually spell,” how can journalism be considered a profession?
After meeting with several news sources, both traditional media sources like the Washington Post and alternative news sites like The Smoking Gun, I’d have to say I’ve been proven wrong.
All you really have to do is look at the most-visited news sites. Leading the pack is msnbc.com, followed by yahoo.com (which is the Associated Press’ largest customer for news articles). Nytimes.com is fifth. In fact, all of the top 20 news sites, as determined by hits, are Web sites run by traditional media outlets with only one exception.
That tells me that whether or not the Internet provides an unlimited base for news outlets to broadcast their views, the public still values accuracy, honesty and reputation. I’ve heard the same from several media representatives on this trip. In the end, I believe the audience is smarter than I gave them credit for. By and large, I believe readers will flock to the Web sites that have established a strong ethic and have been kind to those who visit them.
As such, the definition of “journalist” can’t be broadened to include everyone with a computer and a news ticker. True journalists, as they have since the days of Pulitzer, must have standards. There are ethical requirements of the profession determined not by a professional association but by the audience’s demands.
So, journalists are not a dying breed. Their skill sets are expanding and their approach is changing, but the standards to which they are held have not yet changed and are not really expected to.