The New Order

Hosted by

For KCRW, I'm Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun with Minding the Media.

What will the journalism of the future look like? Will it continue to obsess over absurd, half-in-the-bag teenybopper celebrities, and insist on making up silly headlines to describe criminal sports figures and tin-pot dictators?

With fewer and fewer jobs available in traditional journalism, will aspiring reporters and editors dedicate their energy to the fluid, often irresponsible blogosphere, where opinion is king?

In a column on Saturday, my friend Rex Smith, editor of the Albany Times Union, described going to the local campus of the State University of New York last week for a celebration of the school's new major in journalism, and it got him pondering the future of the business that both he and I love and have spent many hours discussing over the years.

He quoted journalism professor Bill Rainbolt as saying his students would likely be at the peak of their careers in the 2040's, more than three decades from now.

"I can't begin to imagine what the field of journalism will look like in the 2040's," Rainbolt said. "We can't teach them that. All we can do is teach the fundamentals, the ethics of the craft, and hopefully prepare them for the challenges they'll face in God-knows-what environment."

Smith, a man of conscience if ever I knew one, had a suggestion for what young people should learn if they want to be journalists.

"We can teach them that somewhere in the morass of spin and distortion and misunderstanding, a picture of what's true can emerge, and that there is no higher value than helping people understand the truth, however hard it may be to find..."

"Good journalism, they should learn, is relentless."

Yesterday, the Seattle Times ran an interview with the veteran columnist James J. Kilpatrick, now 86, who is still writing but seems befuddled by the changes taking place in journalism.

"The whole world's turned upside down," he said. "The big newspapers are in trouble. I don't know what the future holds."

Like many mainstream journalists, Kilpatrick is skeptical of bloggers. "They are not professionals," he said. "They are amateurs."

He also called them "nonresponsible."

Kilpatrick's interviewer, John Hamer, noted that in the Internet era, freedom of the press is no longer guaranteed, as A.J. Liebling once put it, "only to those who own one."

Hamer told Kilpatrick that some bloggers "were good, some were terrible, but they are the pundits and commentators, or maybe op-ed columnists, of today." "They might be compared to the pamphleteers of our nation's early years, or the public speakers who mounted soap boxes or tree stumps to address a crowd. But now their voices have global reach and considerable clout."

But Hamer acknowledged some problems with the new model. "Do, or should, bloggers follow traditional journalistic standards of accuracy, fairness and balance? How can they be held accountable?"

In an interview with the Jewish Journal, another veteran journalist, Seymour M. Hersh, who is 70 and writes for the New Yorker, said he has embraced the new order.

"There is an enormous change taking place in this country in journalism, and it is online," said Hersh, who received a Pulitzer Prize in 1970 for uncovering the My Lai massacre.

"I hate to tell this to The New York Times or The Washington Post," he said. "We are going to have online newspapers, and they are going to be spectacular. And they are really going to cut into daily journalism."

"We have a vibrant, new way of communicating in America," Hersh said. "We haven't come to terms with it. I don't think much of a lot of the stuff that is out there. But there are a lot of people doing very, very good stuff."

This is Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun, Minding the Media on KCRW.



Nick Madigan