Journalism after 10 years?
“Don’t think journalism is going away. Delivery systems may change from paper to computers, and reporters may be renamed ‘content providers’” — Samuel G Freedman, Letters to a Young Journalist.
In my contemporary journalism class at the University of Iowa, I debated with my professors over the content of social media versus real newsroom journalism. From the progressive era through to late modernism, the news media was thought to connect with norms, values and expectations of the US’s culture. In other words, journalism had been engaged in performing its social role as the fourth estate while maintaining its institutional boundaries. With the advent of social media, however, it is becoming hard to draw boundaries between journalists and non-journalists. Now anyone who has access to technology and knows how to operate the internet can perform a journalistic role without getting any professional training.
For a moment, imagine living in a world where everyone claims to be a journalist without knowing the ethical and moral boundaries of this profession; you will feel like you are living in absolute chaos. Since human nature is inquisitive, to live in the world without quality journalism is inconceivable. However, after the advent of social media, journalism is in a classic catch-22 situation. Having cognizance of the fact that Twitter, blogs and other social media channels have reverberated, still the question arises about whether journalism is dying, morphing, or shrinking. For instance, the model of drone technology for real news gathering inspired many tech junkies in the US but challenged serious journalists who view journalism as a watchdog — aggressive, persuasive and responsible journalism.
Eight years back in Islamabad, when I started working as a correspondent in a daily newspaper, I had no idea about blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc. The only thing I learned from my senior colleagues was that journalism is all about making a real difference in people’s lives. And I promised myself to keep up with it, no matter what it takes. However, within a few years of my journalistic career, my perceptions of journalism and professional and ethical standards started to get blurry because of the popularity of the internet and social media. Soon I realised that the traditional newsrooms will not survive, and my quest started to explore the new media. The question that keeps bothering me, however, is whether the rise of new media will change only the medium of disseminating news, or whether it will morph the journalism profession altogether. I often think to myself whether having access to the iPod/pad, blogs and YouTube means that everyone can be a journalist now.
To me, the most intriguing aspect is the role of the media as a guardian of democratic freedoms and rights of individuals, providing the public with reliable information on which they make opinions and judgments. In today’s world, when quality journalism is declining and investigative reports are not welcomed, my concern is how journalists are able to perform their role as watchdogs. Media organisations are not ready to sacrifice quantity over the quality journalism because quality journalism requires time, effort and financial resources.
On the other hand, routine news reporters just have to report information without making any judgments. In addition, investigative journalists have to face more challenges than the everyday news reporters because of the expensive and time-consuming nature of investigative journalism practices. Only a few examples resolved to continue their struggle towards serious journalism. Such examples are a light at the end of the tunnel, saving the true spirit of serious journalism.
In the early years of my reporting, I started getting the feeling that journalism would reshape in the days to come. Of course, it will not go away or die but journalism will need more content to compete with technology and online media. Now, I am back to the same situation where I started my career as a journalist, facing the same question that I faced five years ago: where do I see myself after 10 years in journalism? At this stage of uncertainty, I find some solace in these words of Samuel G Freedman: “Being a journalist means more than putting up a website.”