COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | STAN SEWITCH

Are we losing journalistic rigor?

Journalism has been a professional field that continually self-examines its motives.

Early on, journalists understood the inherent conflict of interest between earning a livelihood as a journalist and the need to provide credible, objective information.

The credibility of the information was thought to be paramount, above the monetary imperative, and when a conflict arose, the money perspective should always lose.

That philosophy continues today, but the reality is that it is changing. The most important factor is that anyone can now be a journalist without formal training.

I am but one example. Sure, I've learned something along the way, thanks to my editors at The Daily Transcript. But anyone can be a blogger or set up an online news service, try to increase readership and then turn the audience numbers into a revenue stream.

Without the initiation into the profession of journalism, the admonition to keep up the Chinese Wall between revenue streams and editorial decisions is being diluted.

As I wrote last week, the consuming public for news has many more choices, given technology advances and the proliferation of news outlets through the Internet.

Those sources range from the rigorous to the deranged.

As in any market, the providers are searching for the infotainment recipe that makes clicks go up and eyeballs linger. Whoever draws the biggest audience wins the advertising prizes.

I'm personally worried about the profession of journalism — it may be an endangered species.

One day, there will be no difference between advertising and editorial copy, and no apology either.

Imagine an online publication that catered to hypochondriacs: Without the separation of editorial church from advertising state, its sole objective would be to gain the attention of as many people exhibiting psychosomatic or hypochondriac behavior.

The advertisers would be, well, anybody selling diagnostics and pharmaceuticals.

The editorial content would be essentially public relations pieces to promote self-diagnosis and anxiety in its audience — with the more obvious advertisements offering solutions, of course.

"Are you a hypochondriac, or are you just someone who knows more about your own physiology than anyone else? Find out, with our validated self-administered test — only $29.99, plus shipping and handling."

Some say we've already reached this point, and the disintegration of print media is following the demise of journalism, not heralding it.

The cable channels certainly provide evidence for this theory. The only unbiased news reporting appears to be the local broadcast stations that focus on community news; the national news outlets and services can't be viewed as objective editorially.

The good news is that they are not even trying to proclaim objectivity. No anchor has been able to say "fair and balanced" with a straight face for many years.

Perhaps the new journalistic oath will be, "Transparency of bias, to hell with the Chinese Wall."

I could almost support that approach. It's better than being led to believe journalism has editorial freedom when it no longer does. Almost.

In my formative years, the ideals of democracy, community, peace, love and equal respect for all humans were raised up.

Journalism, to me, seemed like one of the noblest careers to pursue — the bedrock of a free society, whose purpose was to illuminate truth. Idealism can lose its shine over the years. Mine has, but it hasn't disappeared.

I allow myself the optimism that journalistic rigor, the noble pursuit of finding and communicating all the news "that's fit to print," will find a new way to blossom from the confusing morass of multiplicity that is our current media environment.



Sewitch is an entrepreneur and business psychologist. He serves as the vice president of global organization development for WD-40 Company. Sewitch can be reached at sewitch1@cox.net.

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