Given fragmentation of audiences, diversity of media platforms, frequently clueless ownership, and devaluation of journalism by the public, what should journalism schools be teaching today?
From time to time, especially during election seasons, this phrase is often uttered:
America needs a robust, independent press.
Examine the critical words. A robust press? Meaning a press “strong, healthy; vigorous … able to withstand or overcome adverse conditions”? An independent press, one “free from outside control, not depending on another’s authority”?
If reasoned people are calling for a robust, independent press, then they must be arguing that America does not have one.
The press, defined by me as journalism practiced primarily by the nation’s daily newspapers, has been eviscerated by changes in technology and ownership over the past few decades — as well as by the erosion of display advertising, its principal revenue machine for more than a century. The press’s robustness and independence are challenged by those fiscal and executive realities.
To paraphrase Bob Garfield, “The future of the journalism we actually consume hinges on the ability to somehow underwrite it.” It’s clear, sadly, and has been for at least two decades, that mass-market advertising will no longer pay the bills as well as allow for investment. Worse, news companies have been giving away news for free. Consumers expect that now. They resist attempts to charge them for news.
So what about this “robust, independent press?”