Oh, the wails and cries coming from the Canadian newspaper industry who still don't get it. The collective blubbering has even been heard across the pond, where UK journalists are writing about the sorry and earned state of my nation's dysfunctional media. It is very interesting for me to see the collapse of a profession that so richly earned everything that has been coming their way. Once upon a time I was a Canadian correspondent for Presstime magazine (a trade publication of the Newspaper Association of America) covering the volatile business of Canadian newspapers. It was a great and exciting job and gave me a perspective on a profession that I absolutely knew was going to implode and self-destruct way back in the late 1990's and early 2000's.
To say the those in the profession in my home and native land were willfully oblivious to the fact that the nuclear bomb had already been dropped and there was going to be a mushroom cloud is an understatement.
But trying to point out the obvious rise of the Internet and its consequences was an exercise in futility, and hello! -- if you don't see truth and reality around you, how can you possibly be a journalist, whose very mandate is to chronicle the world around you?
Too many lies, scams, propaganda, misinformation, and hoaxes made the news. Too many press releases were published as news articles. Too many canned events were taken seriously. Too many image consultants and publicists gained control of the story and the message. Too many important stories were ignored. Too many psychopaths got away with presenting themselves as saints. Too many grifters got away with presenting themselves as Titans of industry. Too much fluffy filler non-news, and the news never truly reflected the world: stories that affected anyone who was not a middle-class and middle-aged white male were either ignored completely, spun to show a complete ignorance of the issue, or relegated to the soft news section.
Stories directly affecting women were never in the hard news section. Stories affecting youth were also roundly ignored. Stories affecting minorities were met with apathy. If you were disabled or poor, you were to be pitied, not spoken to as an equal. Even if a story made its way to the paper, it never spoke directly to the audience who had the most on the line knowing about it. The narrative was and still is, stubbornly patriarchal.
No innovation or experimentation in presenting news in different and better ways. No professors in j-schools conducting experiments to see what can work better. No thinking about tomorrow.
No genuinely connecting to the audiences.
So when the inevitable disconnect happened and the press became irrelevant, those in the newspaper industry -- the ones who openly scoffed that the public broadcaster CBC was funded with taxpayers' dollars for years -- now want to take those tax dollars to keep an unworkable status quo going. Nice try.
It won't work. Taxpayers do not have to be captive enablers to the one profession that can never have an excuse why they don't see what is going on around them. Besides, we use tax dollars to fund Canadian book publishers, and none of them ever became successful and self-sustaining entities. Journalism is a business, not a crown corporation or a quango for a reason: we need reporters to be separated from the State, not draw a pay check from them, tainting their product. The bottom line is the barometer as to how connected a media property is to its audience. A plunging circulation screams that the publication is clueless to what their audience wants and needs and is unnecessary for their progress and survival. To suggest otherwise betrays the desperation and obliviousness of those making the chilling plea.
So to ask the hard and rude necessary question: do we even need journalism?
Yes, but not this kind of journalism. It is out of sync with reality. It is out of sync with the truth.
You need a different breed of journalist: ones who are open, moral, humble, thorough, active, skeptical, empathetic, experimental, brave, and schooled in logic, psychology, and the scientific method.
Those in the newspaper industry have only themselves to blame for falling to the bottom. No one pushed them off that cliff.. Their arrogance and obliviousness brought them to this place. They lost credibility years ago. They relied on public relations to do their work for them. They appealed to authority and the Establishment and became patronizing stenographers to those in power. They took readers for granted, and could not foresee how a new technology would turn them all into relics and dinosaurs.
A journalist is a soldier who liberates truth as she takes on lies, ruses, and delusions. The profession is not a make-work program for those who have a shaky grasp of reality.
Journalism is a hard job. It requires more than spewing whatever mush a government official babbles to deflect attention away from his own bumbling incompetence and pathological greed.
I know what goes on in those places and it was always frustrating for me to watch the games that turned a noble profession into a narcissistic farce.
There have been calls from the perpetually clueless in the profession for government bail outs and public inquiries, but really, if you were doing your jobs, a public inquiry would be unnecessary as you would be aware of what was happening all along.
And why keep the profession afloat when it still doesn't get it, and obviously never will?
I had written articles about the problems of the profession for Skeptic and Critical Review before writing two books about it. I had tried countless times to do the same for newspapers and journalism magazines, but was always shot down. I was not some armchair critic: I worked in the profession and wrote about the business of it. It was the ostrich syndrome, plain and simple, but no one can ever say I didn't do my absolute best to bring real, useful and significant improvements to my profession.
However, before those who write for online publications also get too smug and oblivious to reality, let me point out that the Internet is a transitional medium. It is still in flux and highly unstable, and it is not the solution for the profession. Remember, twenty years ago, home computers were all the rage. Then it was the laptop. Then it was the tablet. Now the smart phone. We are a long way from knowing what will take over five years from now. Netscape dominated until Yahoo came along until Google came along. It was also all about MySpace until Twitter came along until Facebook came along until Snapchat came along. The Fourth Medium is, in fact, more unstable than print, and anyone who is in denial needs to look what happened to the Canadian newspaper industry before they shut their eyes and open their mouths to spew that deluded sophistry.
And no, it is not different. We have yet to reach the Fifth Medium. Just as radio was the transitional medium that brought rise to television, the Internet is merely keeping the seat warm for the more dominate and superior medium when it finally arrives.
Yet I don't see doom and gloom if we can face the reality of the problems to find the truth, and the truth is that the medium is not the profession. However, what makes a journalist needs to be fully explored before we can make the leap to improve the profession; so when it is rebuilt, a different breed of active and critical thinkers can take it to the heights it needs to come roaring back to life.