In an essay for Atlantic magazine, James Fallows laments the rise of new media but sees hope for a revived notion of true reporting.
Guest post by Megan Lane
While most media pundits lament the passing of journalism’s golden years, writer James Fallows also sees a silver lining.
In the aptly titled Learning to Love the (Shallow, Divisive, Unreliable) New Media, Fallows reiterates fears about today’s profit-driven, infotainment brand of news reporting. “Media will fail to cover too much of what really matters,” he writes, “as they are drawn toward the sparkle of entertainment and away from the depressing realities of the statehouse.”
A potentially frightening result of this sparkling facileness is the deterioration of the nation’s very intellectual capacity as mass media “optimized for attracting quick hits turns into a continual-distraction machine for society as a whole.”
Today's media consumers are uniquely empowered to decide the type of product they watch, read or listen to. We are no longer a national audience being told what’s important by a handful of trusted gatekeepers, says broadcast icon Ted Koppel. We are instead, he says, a “a million or more clusters of consumers, harvesting information from like-minded providers.” Has this tectonic shift in how Americans consume news diminished journalism’s institutional goal of ensuring a knowledgeable public? To some extent, yes. You can’t deny that in a consumer-driven news world, the Kardashians will win mass audience over the war in Iraq any day of the week.
Even so, Fallows believes that there may be hope for us. Yes, new media may mean a more unreliable, decentralized, “fluffier” style of journalism. But the Internet age may also help to bring a richer supply of legitimately important news to the masses in ways that no previous delivery vehicle could hope to accomplish. For all the sloppy and poorly produced content, media consumers today have access to an infinitely wider array of experienced news sources and public policy discussions that didn’t – and still don’t – exist in most newspapers and television coverage.
Could the new media age actually improve the field of journalism? It may be happening as we watch. Fallows concludes by considering the historic events in Egypt:
“ A major event in world history was covered more quickly, with more nuance, involving a greater range of voices and critical perspectives, than would have been conceivable even a few years ago. Within hours of the first protests in Egypt, American and world audiences read dispatches from professional correspondents—on Web sites, rather than waiting until the next day, as they had to during the fall of the Berlin Wall.”
Add to this faster, broader coverage the impact of amateur YouTube videos, real-time Twitter feeds, blog posts and Facebook conversations – all happening literally in time with breaking headlines. The result is a depth of news coverage and analysis that while difficult to classify in the context of traditional journalism is engaging the public like never before.
If Fallows is right, the death of journalism as we know it may actually be a rebirth into a new era of redefined, better journalism. It may be a maturing of the information age where truth still rises above the clutter of the information glut to be exposed, analyzed and spread further than ever before possible. Here’s hoping that he’s right.
(Megan Lane is a Senior Associate at GBSM, Inc. and was previously an editor at the Aspen Daily News. Scatterbox editor Steven Silvers contributed to this post.)