Changing face of journalism demands new media
In last Wednesday’s editorial titled “AD Situation Overblown By Media,” — ironic, seeing as they ran an editorial the day before criticizing Hermann for “drag[ing] us all through the mud” — The Daily Targum’s editorial board quoted a section of Muckgers’ Mission & Disclosures page about objectivity and mused: “Yet this brings us to a larger issue of new media. Do we read the articles on websites like Muckgers.com as we would a blog, or as an actual news outlet?”
Forget, for a minute, that as student-run publications, neither Muckgers (for which I’m an editor) nor the Daily Targum can lay serious claim to the title of “actual news outlet.” Forget also that some of the most widely read and renowned sources of news on the web either started or still identify as “blogs.” Forget, once more, that some of the world’s largest and most veritable news outlets — The New York Times, The Washington Post — rely in large part on their “blog” pages to attract and retain readers. Then ask yourself: in the world of digital media, is there really a difference?
The line is at least blurring. Just look at the events of this past year, which saw some of the biggest names in media fleeing from older, more established publications — from “actual news outlets” like the Post or the Times — to start new and innovative ventures online. Felix Salmon, a finance blogger for Reuters, called this exodus a “wonk bubble” in a recent Politico article, where the “wonks” are people like journalist and writer Ezra Klein, who left The Washington Post earlier this year to launch Vox.com. Salmon puts it this way:
“For decades, the news business has been constrained in ways both physical and conventional. There was a generally breathless emphasis on the new; there was deep belief in the virtues of objectivity and impartiality; and while journalists might have a deep knowledge of their beats, they left opinions in the mouths of quoted experts.
As these old verities erode, it’s the wonks who are at the forefront of creating a new type of journalism. Klein is unabashed when he says that his goal is to compete with Wikipedia more than The New York Times: The new is important only insofar as it is, well, important. The audience for such material is now sophisticated enough that it doesn’t want writers hiding behind other people’s opinions: Increasingly, we want our journalists to say what they think and be judged on it.”
His point, of course, is that as readers’ tastes change and as journalists’ practices evolve with them, the whole ethos of journalism as a field changes as well. Hence the popularity of sites like Gawker, BuzzFeed and Vice, but also the quickness of Old Guard publications like the Post to develop their own branches of blog-like, opinion-driven platforms. Far from a fringe movement, this is the nature of journalism today.
Unfortunately, despite the nature of the environment as an incubus for innovation, journalism on the college campus has been slow to pick up on this change. The type of thinking exhibited by The Targum’s editorial – that somehow we should regard new media with a skepticism undeserving of more traditional media — seems outdated, naïve even, and reflects an unwillingness to recognize and adapt to industry changes that defines many college newspapers and journalism departments today. In truth, Muckgers — founded largely by former Daily Targum editors sick of dealing with the institutional bureaucracy and poverty of vision symptomatic of an organization grown fat on its own excess — emerged partly in response to this problem.
That’s not to say we’ve had any real success in this respect, though. Developing a credible news site that readers can trust takes time, and we’re probably still far from a point where we can run a controversial article about the school’s Athletic Director and not have to fork over a recording of the interview to prove our reporting is solid. (We’re looking at you, Steve Politi.) But trial and error eventually begets lasting innovation, and we’ve at least had the courage to try to shake the old modes, to offer readers fresh perspectives and relevant context required to make better sense of the issues and events on campus that affect them directly. Whether that kind of approach to campus journalism sticks will depend on the “them,” the readers — not, as The Targum would have it, on arbitrary judgments and standards about the way journalism should be done, invented by the media itself.
Chase Brush is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in economics and philosophy. He is the editor-in-chief of Muckgers.com, as well as a former editor-in-chief of The Daily Targum.