Is Journalism Descending into a World of Tweets?

Here’s a great op-ed from the Dec. 11, 2014 WSJ. It may be paywalled, but you should find it and read it.

The writer is Edward Kosner, who is the former editor of a couple of little publications that you may not have heard of: namely Newsweek, New York and Esquire. Kosner takes to task this new wave of pseudo-journos who have left fact-checking in the backroom and traded it for sensationalism (Rolling Stone’s rape victim story), omission because fact-checking might bring legal challenges (Mark Whittaker’s biography of Bill Cosby) and utter contempt for an established culture (Chris Hughes’s remaking of The New Republic).

Is it better to get it wrong but have a sensational viral build? That seems to be the central thesis of how things are heading in journalism today. In a fast-paced, TMZ-obsessed, facts-aren’t-as-important-as-they-used-to-be, feed the beast, apologize later, 24/7/365 news cycle of a world, is there room for civility and discourse and thoughtful analysis and researched, fact-checked, credible investigative pieces?

What would Edwin Newman say? Or Cronkite? Or Dan Schorr? I think Edward R. Murrow is off somewhere in the ether having a cigarette and a good, sad cry over the state of things today.

Kosner’s piece put me in mind of the latest installment of the HBO series The Newsroom, which focused on the takeover the fictional cable network by an unscrupulous non-journalist who saw nothing wrong with bending the facts if rating ticked upward and twinned that story with a ripped-from-the-headlines tale of campus rape and how hard it is for victims to get justice in a system that is weighted heavily against them.

There’s nothing in me that says that Twitter — or a blog — cannot deliver legitimate news, that newspapers that deliver the news on newsprint are better than those that delivery the news in pixels or that print newsweeklies are somehow superior to online magazines. To me, that’s not even the argument. What’s really at stake is the credibility of journalists. Do we say, “Hell, no!” and continue to check our facts and fight to publish high-quality reporting? Or do we roll over and let the 1% at the top of the corporate food chain’s mania for profits win?


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