I haven't written much here lately because I've been quite busy working on the SNCR's recent research symposium and awards program, next spring's NewComm Forum, the Journal of New Communications Research and my master's thesis, which explores how Americans have engaged with the press historically, and how this new era of social media and citizen journalism is affecting the role of traditional media in our society.
During the course of my thesis research this evening, I found something interesting that I would like to share: a video clip from the recent Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco. During one of the conference's panel discussions New York Times chairman and publisher Arthur Sulzberger talked about citizen journalism and its effect on the New York Times and traditional media model. While Mr. Sulzberger stated that his newspaper and others are increasingly embracing citizen journalism in some way, he seemed to exhibit what I would characterize as arrogance about the unchallenged role of arbiter for the New York Times and the traditional media model in today's society. He spoke of the NYT pursuing its role the way it has for the last 150 years, and seemed quite comfortable in discounting the knowledge, wisdom and emerging influence of new citizen journalists and the social media movement. This is only a two-minute clip and admittedly his comments could have been taken out of context, but I invite you to check it out and share your thoughts and opinions here.
These new trends in journalism -- and traditional media's reaction, are of paramount interest to me as I write my thesis and ask the question: In this era of online news sources, aggregated publishing models, declining readership of newspapers - especially among younger audiences and the rise of social media and citizen journalism, what are newspapers for? (inspired by Jay Rosen's "What are journalists for?")
In her book Journalistic Standards in Nineteenth-Century America, journalism professor Hazel Dicken-Garcia outlined a number of criteria to measure whether a social institution (such as the newspaper) is meeting the needs of society at the time. I believe these criteria are enduring, and that it is quite interesting to consider them in today's context, and as a new era of journalism emerges:
- What is the function of the newspaper and is there agreement in the industry as to what a newspaper’s function should be?
- What is the newspapers's place in the social structure? How does the newspaper function in the way today’s society is ordered?
- How do newspapers interact with, reflect and help shape today’s society?
- Are newspapers an integral part of reinforcing and promoting the goals of our society?
- Do today's newspapers exhibit a stable organization and with consistent policies and sense of community between journalists and a common understanding of the newspaper's purpose?
- Do newspapers’ work and emphasis reflect a conscious sense of their role to keep society going?
- Do newspapers accurately reflect today’s society’s composition and diversity?
- Do newspapers have a permanence as an institution?
- Do newspapers have an understanding that they serve the whole society by addressing a diversity of groups, exploring a wide range of ideas and being involved with social issues and movements of the society?
- Is there a balanced relationship between newspapers and society, so that continuance or advancement of either depends on the other?
- Do newspapers have a clear and separate purpose, function and body of knowledge, skills, expertise separate from other social institutions?
It's clear that many newspaper organizations (including the NYT to some extent) are considering these types of questions and are beginning to embrace new models and explore innovative ways of addressing the needs of society, but comments such as those made by Mr. Sulzberger do not bode well for the future of the newspaper industry or its ability to fully embrace this new era.
What do you think? How would you rate newspapers today as measuring up against these criteria?