"Technology has given the power of the printing press and a television
station to everyone. Everyone has the opportunity to publish news and
opinion. That improves our journalism. It improves the world’s
journalism." — John Robinson, Editor, Greensboro News-Record
Blogging about journalism is nothing like doing journalism. Although it’s easy as a blogger to make yourself believe that you are in touch with reality, it’s just as easy to become detached from the very thing about which you are supposed to be an expert.
Thankfully, there are professionals like John Robinson, blogger and editor of the Greensboro News-Record, to remind us from whence we came – and who describe a brighter future for journalism than many of their peers. Robinson graciously agreed to answer the following questions about media in general and journalism in particular:
BTF: What constitutes "the media" today?
JR: This is a question for the academics to debate. I’m not an academic. No offense, but I don’t know any working journalist — or citizen journalist — who cares. People work for newspapers, or for Web sites, or TV stations or they blog or vlog. Honestly, no one works for "the media" except for those pundits who criticize "the media" for a variety of ills.
BTF: How has technology made things better for journalism? How has it made things worse?
JR: I can’t think of a legitimate reason technology has made things worse for the media. Someone might say it has threatened the business model on which I make my living, but that’s not true. My profession hasn’t responded appropriately or effectively. Someone might say it has allowed all kinds of opinion to pose as truth. That’s true, but the same can be said — and is — of traditional media "advances." (The development of talk news, for instance.)
Technology has given the power of the printing press and a television station to everyone. Everyone has the opportunity to publish news and opinion. That improves our journalism. It improves the world’s journalism. More voices telling people what they know and think is good. The more MSM journalists who listen to their readers and viewers, the better.
As for my paper in particular, thanks to the Web, we’re able to do radio and television. Our dozens of reporters — more than any other news organization in our area — can do video and audio, as well as newsprint. Think of the opportunity to expand our journalism! Of course, we also can speak much more directly to our audience with blogs and interactivity. And there’s that thing about transparency.
BTF: What is your definition of "citizen journalism" or "citizen media?" Do you think citizen involvement in the creation of news is a trend or a fad?
JR: Again, definitions are just uninteresting academic discussions to me. I guess that citizen journalism is anyone who creates news or opinion and distributes it. But, you know, what difference does a definition make?
I think citizen involvement isn’t a trend or a fad. It’s an historic development that will only grow. Once the power has shifted, does it ever shift back? I’m no historian, but I’d suggest that once everyone has the ability and the freedom to create their own news, opinion and information report, there’s no going back.
BTF: Who will be newspaper readers in 20 years, and why?
JR: The most intelligent people. No, seriously, there’s me. OK, seriously, 20 years, right? I think there will be plenty of newspaper readers. Don’t ask me about 50 years. Twenty years is only one generation. Boomers are still alive and well. The typical newspaper reader will be in his/her 60s, but there will still be tens of millions of people in their 60s.
The more interesting question is what will the newspaper look like in 20 years. It’ll be smaller in both size and number of sections. They will be local, local, local. And they’ll still be good.
And an interesting question I don’t know the answer to: Some of those papers — we may be one of them — will have old, old presses that need to be replaced. But presses cost millions and millions of dollars. Will publishers want to spend that kind of money 10 or 20 years from now? (Or now, for that matter?) And if they don’t, what happens to that paper without a working press?
BTF: Do you believe there is more news today than there is journalism?
JR: Yes. Everything is "news." My daughter’s soccer game is news, but is anyone turning it into journalism? Not that I’m aware of. If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? Science tells you that it does. If news happens and no one is there to record it, does it happen? Of course.
That is changing. More and more people are recording the news of their lives, thanks to technological advances.
BTF: With all the challenges of being a journalist – from increased competition to poor public perception – why should people pursue journalism as a profession?
JR: Because it’s a sacred trust. Because it informs people and, if done right, it engenders democracy. Because it’s fun. Because it’s not selling insurance or telephone service or destroying the environment.
BTF: Is print dead? If not then why — if so, who or what killed it?
JR: No. No medium since the stone tablet has died. Well, except for Nostradamus.
BTF: What, in your opinion, is the best thing about the future of news?
JR: Everyone can play. Lots of choices. It gets intensely local. I can’t go to my daughter’s high school football game? I can watch it online with broadband because someone has videotaped it. I wonder what she’s being taught in school? I can find out — even if she’s a non-communicative kid — from her teacher’s Web site and from the two students in her class who have blogs.