Aaron's Real Opinions:

Is it Too Late to Save Newspaper Journalism?
by Aaron Harber
June 21, 2009- Print Article


So what is the solution for saving journalism?  Newspapers, in particular, know they need to reduce their costs and every one of them is in the process of doing just that.  Staffs are being trimmed, newsprint orders are being reduced, newspapers are shrinking page sizes and page numbers, travel is being restricted, and other expenses are being cut.  Managers know they need to have a local focus and all of them do.  They know they need to have an online presence and they all have one.  Unfortunately, all this is not going to be enough. 

Sadly, journalism guaranteed its own demise by functioning in the exact manner which is diametrically opposed to what it expects of others.  Rather than being transparent and making a point of allowing citizens to see how journalism really works --- hence educating the masses about the value of journalism --- journalists arrogantly assumed everyone knew what they did and knew they were working in the best interests of their communities, states, and country. 


In reality, journalism operated in a black box --- with information gathered by reporters somehow being turned into news stories.  The public rarely saw how hard reporters often worked to get stories.  However, they often did see mistakes which gave the impression reporters were lazy --- depending too much on press releases and quick interviews to accomplish most of their work. 

Citizens did not see the careful research which went into many stories.  They did not observe the discussions and debates which occurred in newsrooms with reporters, editors, and publishers about how a story should be written, what was appropriate to include or exclude, and what the impacts of certain revelations might be.  And when a critical decision was made to not run a story, the public almost never knew about it. 


This “Trust us, we work for you” paternalistic mentality was too similar to the “We’re from the government --- we’re here to help you” philosophy so many journalists and members of the public saw as disingenuous (and of which the public is mistrustful). 

The reality is very few citizens know what standards to which journalists attempt to adhere.  So, when they compare good journalism to what some blogger (such as myself) may write online, it is unreasonable to assume they perceive a significant difference.  Most of them don’t make any distinction at all. 

And even this entire discussion begs the questions raised about the biases of journalists and how organizations with high journalistic standards seek to address and mitigate those biases.  Again, the public never sees any of those endeavors to be unbiased and accurate either.  Journalists deal with these challenges so frequently, they are second nature.  Unfortunately, they fail to realize citizens are isolated from these efforts to maintain high integrity. 


So what can newspapers and philanthropic organizations do which will turn the tide or at least slow down and eventually stop the bleeding?  Here are some elements which could be considered for inclusion in a possible recipe for success. 


The premise is journalists need to begin to educate America on a large scale why they and journalism are so important.  If citizens do not know what they are losing, they will not care if high quality journalism disappears.  They won’t even know it happened.  And the public certainly will not pay for a higher quality product unless citizens conclude that, indeed, they actually are purchasing a higher quality product which has significant value to them. 

As more and more Americans eventually understand and appreciate what quality journalism brings to them and what it means to their communities and our nation, press organizations will have a better chance of achieving financial success and stability, even if they still exist only in cyberspace.  Now is time for journalists to make their case… before it truly is too late.

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