Symptoms of Underlying Stress in Journalism

McManus, John
December 2004
Nieman Reports;Winter2004, Vol. 58 Issue 4, p52
This article discusses the symptoms of underlying stress in U.S. journalism. Punditry and attitude are more symptoms than causes of changes in journalism. Think of them as signs of stress, foreshocks, as more powerful forces interact under the surface due to transformations in the technology of news distribution and, with this, the economics of journalism. Punditry and attitude flourish as resources for reporting grow scarcer and news providers aim at niche audiences. Without enough reporters to consistently turn up interesting stories, push the columnists out front. Writing colorfully or with edge adds entertainment value. Ethnic and alternative media are the expanding areas of journalism. Both cater to niche audiences and are understaffed relative to mainstream newsrooms. Least staffed and, not surprisingly, most extreme in attitude is the burgeoning blogosphere. Most bloggers can't afford reporting. Commentary is cheap--and the more pungent, the more likely to attract a following. There are advantages to greater diversity of news and views. But right now disadvantages seem greater. Opinion cannot substitute for the information that solid reporting turns up. In an economically interdependent world, reliable news ought to be more valued than ever, since the consequences of being uninformed are more grave. So the market for such information should remain strong, even as it continues to fractionate.


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