Thursday, October 22, 2009

CJR: The Reconstruction of American Journalism

"The Reconstruction of American Journalism," a comprehensive, in-depth report by Leonard Downie, Jr., and Michael Schudson, for the Columbia Journalism Review, is mandatory reading.

Leonard Downie Jr. is vice president at large and former executive editor of The Washington Post and Weil Family Professor of Journalism at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Michael Schudson is a professor of communication at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

The report proposes "new steps for maintaining a vibrant, independent press, with special emphasis on local 'accountability journalism' that is essential to civic life."

(Commentary from five responders, and a podcast with the authors, can be found here.)

Some highlights:
What is under threat is independent reporting that provides information, investigation, analysis, and community knowledge, particularly in the coverage of local affairs....

Reporting is becoming more participatory and collaborative. The ranks of news gatherers now include not only newsroom staffers, but freelancers, university faculty members, students, and citizens. Financial support for reporting now comes not only from advertisers and subscribers, but also from foundations, individual philanthropists, academic and government budgets, special interests, and voluntary contributions from readers and viewers. There is increased competition among the different kinds of news gatherers, but there also is more cooperation, a willingness to share resources and reporting with former competitors. That increases the value and impact of the news they produce, and creates new identities for reporting while keeping old, familiar ones alive. “I have seen the future, and it is mutual,” says Alan Rusbridger, editor of Britain’s widely read Guardian newspaper. He sees a collaborative journalism emerging, what he calls a “mutualized newspaper.”

The Internet has made all this possible, but it also has undermined the traditional marketplace support for American journalism. The Internet’s easily accessible free information and low-cost advertising have loosened the hold of large, near-monopoly news organizations on audiences and advertisers. As this report will explain, credible independent news reporting cannot flourish without news organizations of various kinds, including the print and digital reporting operations of surviving newspapers. But it is unlikely that any but the smallest of these news organizations can be supported primarily by existing online revenue. That is why—at the end of this report—we will explore a variety and mixture of ways to support news reporting, which must include non-market sources like philanthropy and government....

What is bound to be a chaotic reconstruction of American journalism is full of both perils and opportunities for news reporting, especially in local communities. The perils are obvious. The restructuring of newspapers, which remain central to the future of local news reporting, is an uphill battle. Emerging local news organizations are still small and fragile, requiring considerable assistance—as we have recommended—to survive to compete and collaborate with newspapers. And much of public media must drastically change its culture to become a significant source of local news reporting.

Yet we believe we have seen abundant opportunity in the future of journalism. At many of the news organizations we visited, new and old, we have seen the beginnings of a genuine reconstruction of what journalism can and should be. We have seen struggling newspapers embrace digital change and start to collaborate with other papers, nonprofit news organizations, universities, bloggers, and their own readers. We have seen energetic local reporting startups, where enthusiasm about new forms of journalism is contagious, exemplified by Voice of San Diego’s Scott Lewis when he says, “I am living a dream.” We have seen pioneering public radio news operations that could be emulated by the rest of public media. We have seen forward-leaning journalism schools where faculty and student journalists report news themselves and invent new ways to do it. We have seen bloggers become influential journalists, and Internet innovators develop ways to harvest public information, such as the linguistics doctoral student who created the Congressional voting database. We have seen the first foundations and philanthropists step forward to invest in the future of news, and we have seen citizens help to report the news and support new nonprofit news ventures. We have seen into a future of more diverse news organizations and more diverse support for their reporting.

All of this is within reach. Now, we want to see more leaders emerge in journalism, government, philanthropy, higher education, and the rest of society to seize this moment of challenging changes and new beginnings to ensure the future of independent news reporting.
Read the entire report here.

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