I recently wrote a piece here on Medium that got lots of attention and, since it was all about honesty being a source of legitimacy, I should be honest and say that it felt very cool and validating to see it being forwarded around a lot.
I appreciate all of the nice things people said about it. I also appreciate the negative things people said about it, and there were lots of good points made. But I got a fair amount of criticism (or agreement) on points I didn’t actually make, and I want to make one of those clear now.
I do not think there’s a problem with the institution of journalism. The only journalism problems we have in this country (and world) is that there isn’t enough of it and that careers building those skills are becoming more rare. We don’t recognize how vital and difficult and time consuming and valuable journalism is, but journalism itself does not have a problem. Even if foreign offices have closed, there is excellent research and reporting going on all over the world.
Journalism is self-aware, actively and effectively evolving, and its major influencers care about the future of the world. My problem is with with the corporate news media, an institution in which those things are mostly untrue, particularly in TV. The media through which journalism is distributed are in various states of dissaray, but TV is by far the most worrying. This is especially problematic because it’s the most common source of news on government, international, business, and social issues.
Media is certainly in turmoil, but there are also many wonderful things happening. Cable and premium channels have brought us TV shows that critics hail as the height of the form. So where is that renaissance of news video? Will it be Vice with ISIS-embedded journalists blending Anderson Cooper and Bear Grylls? Or Vox, actually spending time ensuring that the person reading the article understands the implications and context of the thing they’re watching? And in a weird way, it’s been happening for years on TV under the guidance of John Stewart.
I don’t know what’s next, but I do know it won’t be an iteration. We won’t be brought forward by building Twitter accounts or putting TV clips on YouTube. It will come as an evolution. We’ll need to remember what the goal used to be before all of the infrastructure got built on top of it, and then re-imagine how to accomplish that goal in this new world and with these new tools.
And the goal is simple: Inform people. There are really only two necessary steps in that process:
- Make informative content
- Get people to consume it
Television news media seem to have forgotten that first step. Journalism has not. But the confusion that those two things are the same (apparent among all the people who accused me of denouncing journalism) has decayed the general public’s belief that any of this content is worth paying attention to.
This vacuum can’t exist for long, especially because there is so much excellent, effective journalism being done. We just need new ways to communicate it. It’s going to be fun to watch happen, and maybe (hopefully) even be a part of it.