Can modern journalism withstand the rapid shift in the media landscape?
The blurring lines between mainstream and social media resulted in an unfortunate gaffe last week by the Canadian Journalism Foundation (CJF). They awarded a Vancouver-based partisan blog with its highest honour – the Excellence in Journalism Award, in their small/local media category.
The CJF and its panel of judges missed an important fact about the Vancouver Observer – that it is known to be linked to a political organization currently in power at Vancouver City Hall. For those media outlets that were not awarded, and who always aim to give the news impartially – without fear or favour – it is a bitter pill.
This is not an indictment of the CJF, who have not commented since being alerted about the organization's political connections. They will undoubtedly be asking themselves how to prevent such oversights in the future.
Rather, it is a red flag to Canada's journalism community when it comes to online media. Can journalism's checks and balances withstand an onslaught of online sources? Will best practices prevail when a media story can land on the front page of your website mere minutes after a “tweet” happens?
Modern journalism was built in the analog world over the last century and a half. But, at a pace that must cause sleepless nights for ink suppliers, the new frontier for journalism is rapidly going digital. It is believed that in just a few short years we'll consume the majority of our news media on mobile devices.
The new generation of journalists are building their portfolios through blogging, YouTube channels and the echo chamber of social media. Meanwhile, veteran reporters are taking buyout packages as Canada's media businesses restructure around the new digital reality. As a result of this transition, it is conceivable that the wisdom and experience of the elders will not be passed down to the newcomers.
I run blogs where multiple writers are featured, and they are widely read among our peers. They exhibit the characteristics of online magazines in that they are colourful, provocative, and opinionated.
However, do we consider them to be journalism? No.
That's because, while we are aware of their influence and consider it our responsibility to ensure accuracy in our content, we are not bound by a requirement to be objective. You might also say that neither was this year's winner of the CJF Excellence in Journalism Award.
Having an unfettered and open news media is important to Canadians. We have even enshrined freedom of the press in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It does put the burden of accuracy in reporting on our journalists, and most rise to the challenge.
But less reliable and more subjective sources of news have entered the media marketplace. It may look and sound like journalism, but ultimately fails the test of impartiality set out in the late 19th Century by Adolph Ochs, the founding father of the New York Times.
Speaking as a blogger, it is my hope that news providers and institutions like the CJF will recognize these threats and face them head on. There will never be a substitute for reliable journalism.
- post by Mike