Feb 222009
Authors: J. David McSwane

Within the industry and beyond, there’s been much talk about the future of journalism — or lack thereof. It’s scary for those studying it, painful for those forced to leave their once robust profession and a sad reality for the public that appreciates journalism.

But I’m not here to scare you.

I personally find a great deal of the conversation in journals, news articles and in the classroom to be little more than masturbatory self-assurance, but as the newspaper I grew up with faces extinction, I am compelled to join.

The Rocky Mountain News is set to be shut down as a consequence of dwindling classifieds and print ads and the emergence of the Internet, which robs journalists and organizations of compensation for work and public service. And journalism, in its purest form, is a public service.

These pre-existing hardships have been further compounded by a growing economic recession, which has journalists across the country gripping to the presses, terrified that the fourth estate — the mechanism with which citizens hold the branches of government accountable in the court of public opinion — might become an ideal of antiquity.

Oh, and local TV news is in trouble, too. And while I wholeheartedly believe a diversity of news sources promotes self-regulation and is a vital toehold for the democratic process, local TV could use a little purging. Case and point: Tom Martino and Leland Vittert of Denver’s KDVR.

Still, I don’t buy it. I don’t see a journalistic dark age upon us, though things will undoubtedly be changing and challenging. I do, however, see the death of journalism as a capitalist venture ahead and the Rupert Murdochs of the world becoming their own undoing.

The giant infrastructure that was American news media is crumbling. And it might just be the best damn thing that ever happened to journalism.

At least the true believers know what they are up against, and those folks are the vanguard in redefining the industry to once again understand its primitive, unadulterated roots: To seek truth in the public interest and keep the powers-that-be accountable.

Professors and current professionals tell students that we must learn how to do video, blogs, podcasts, take photos and report for the Web on top of the traditional media. It’s all about becoming a mobile journalist, “a mojo,” who knows a little about a lot, for the bottom line.

There is no harm in knowing that stuff, but the philosophy is a load of crap.

I’d rather not take at face value the advice of professionals who just laid 10 reporters off or the professor who teaches because the industry is so daunting. We need specialization and the dedication of intellectuals to important topics to fulfill our mission as journalists.

After all, media giant Gannett’s local investment, The Coloradoan, operates as a “platform agnostic information center,” meaning the product is gathered so that it may be presented across new and traditional media. But when is the last time you read an investigation or in-depth story in that rag?

If the future of journalism is to be bright, we must, once and for all, accept the challenge the Web has delivered and, for those who aren’t The New York Times, consider the possibility that a public service shouldn’t be a profit game ruled by conglomerated media akin to an overextended Roman Empire.

Esteemed publisher of the Rocky, John Temple, disagrees with the non-profit model for newspapers. But, again, I would rather not take advice from a man steering a sinking ship, though I admire his poise.

Some of the codgers who run the biz with their failed ideas say my generation doesn’t care, that we don’t appreciate the news, that we are too A.D.D. to read more than a Twitter submission. I say they can bite me.

That sounds like something the scrappy reporters of yore might appreciate. People like that — well, we’re just too stubborn to disappear. Journalism isn’t going anywhere.

J. David McSwane is a senior journalism and technical communication major. His column appears Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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