By Alan Caruba
“Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, the Society of Professional Journalists promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press.”
The Society of Professional Journalists is holding its centennial convention August 27 to 30 in Indianapolis. I have been a member for more than 25 years. I haven’t earned a living at it since the 1970s.
I, for one, would not want to be among “the next generation of journalists” because it is likely to be one with few job opportunities and expanded requirements that include the mastery of a variety of technical skills. I became a journalist with a pen, a notepad, and a typewriter.
Today’s “professional” journalists are being replaced by “citizen” journalists, many of whom have real expertise in their area of reporting and have created blogs to share their knowledge. Their commentaries are often posted as well on sites that aggregate news on a broad range of topics and it is generally real news you cannot read in the mainstream press that day.
Today, a mainstream news reporter must often be adept with a television camera, albeit some are quite small and easy to handle. Some reporters, I’m told, also take still photos to accompany their stories. Presumably he must be able to take good notes. In smaller outlets, he may also be expected to help with page layout and design. And, of course, he is expected to be observant not only about what is occurring, but conversant with the larger events and trends as well.
Starting salaries are far less than just about any other skilled professional might expect and they remain low for most reporters and editors throughout their tenure. City rooms that used to buzz with activity, phones ringing, laughter and discourse, now echo with little more than the tap-tap of computer keys.
News is delivered fully written in the form of a deluge of emailed news releases. It is folly to send one by U.S. mail anymore. I know from personal experience that if a reporter doesn’t like what he’s receiving he will just email back “take me off your list” or a comparable message to the effect that your “news” interferes with his perception of the facts or conflicts with the unspoken shibboleths of his newspaper’s ideology.
A recent example of this is the astonishing general failure or refusal to report on the more than one thousand “tea parties” that took place around the nation. Too often these events with more than two or three thousand people in attendance received no notice.
There is little real “free flow of information.” Probably never was. News is what editors and reporters say it is. If they don’t like the news they are receiving they either ignore it, bury it, or find a way to put their own spin on it. Then they complain about its source; usually a former journalist-turned-public relations flack. The American Society of News Editors had to cancel their 2009 convention..
In the interest of full disclosure I have been one of those PR flacks for decades. The first thing a PR professional learns is to tell the truth. Anything else will come back to bite you. And let me also say that I like journalists, always have and always will. I am happy to count many as friends.
The real news at the Society of Professional Journalist’s centennial convention is the loss of advertising revenue that threatens what jobs are left. The Christian Science Monitor now exists solely on the Internet. Watch for this to become a trend. They will, however, still need professional journalists.
Among news magazines, U.S. News and World Report used to be a weekly. Now it arrives but once a month while offering subscribers Internet updates between issues. Time and Newsweek have put a picture of Barack Obama on their covers so many times in the past year that they are beyond embarrassment if they do it again…and again. They are virtually useless as sources of credible information.
The loss that is essential to the news business is their credibility. Consumers of news trust their newspapers less and less. And they have good reason.
The classic example is the way The New York Times continues to report evidence of “global warming” when the Earth is in a decade-old cooling cycle. An Associated Press science reporter is a disgrace. Newspapers are now in the daily “crisis” business, often without regard to whether a real crisis exists or not. Ordinary people go about their lives by ignoring the screaming headlines.
With a few notable exceptions is newspapers’ dogged liberal outlook in a nation where the bulk of Americans self-identify as being some degree of conservative. There’s a reason why people turn to Fox News or listen to Rush Limbaugh. They agree with them and they trust them. The basement ratings of CNN and MSNBC tell the story.
Journalism’s self-delusions pose a greater threat than the transition to the Internet, the sick economy, or any other factor. Reporting the news requires a genuinely objective examination of what is occurring. Without the capacity to do that, there is little reason to be among this or the next generation of journalists.