Losing the News: The Future of the News That Feeds Democracy.
Journalism's Roving Eye: A History of American Foreign Reporting.
The twenty-first century has been a traumatic one for journalism.
Changes in how people consume news, combined with the great recession of
2007-9 and the business equivalent of reckless driving by some
proprietors (such as the real estate mogul
In Losing the News,
Journalism is the craft of newsgathering. Over time, it has evolved to encompass a set of standards and practices that make it -- when it is done well -- a reliable provider of facts and interpretation. Anyone can report what he sees happening around him, but there is a premium on the experienced judgment of professional writers and editors. And this is what is at stake today.
For all its shortcomings and excesses, journalism is an essential -- even indispensable -- element of any functioning democracy. Traditionally, society's other great estates -- government, education, medicine, the arts -- have had a revenue model based on taxes, fees, insurance, or philanthropy. Journalism, however, has been supported overwhelmingly by advertising and circulation -- a model that assures an ongoing tug of war between the need to cultivate the public interest and the duty to antagonize society's most powerful pillars through careful scrutiny. News organizations are civic assets as much as are universities, libraries, museums, and hospitals, but unlike these institutions, the media have never been able to count on guaranteed public support.
Nonprofit media may yet turn out to be a savior. Yet significantly,
Jones and Hamilton barely mention
Hamilton, once a foreign correspondent for The Christian Science
Monitor and ABC Radio, is the dean of the
The early twentieth century was the age of media moguls such as
The modern era has been framed by illustrious families -- the Sulzbergers, the Grahams, the Chandlers, and the Luces -- who gave foreign reporting its most sustained period by stationing highly regarded correspondents in permanent bureaus abroad. These reporters were given the time and the means to do more than sweep in for a "scoop," to borrow the title of the iconic 1938 Evelyn Waugh novel that captured the personas of newspaper owners and their intrepid reporters.
The characters in Hamilton's book -- including
If there is a hero in Hamilton's pantheon, it is
The ambitions of Lawson's correspondents were formidable: "Our men,"
The problems Lawson faced in maintaining a foreign staff suggest that
today's difficulties are not all that new. In 1924,
THE LAST BUREAU
The number of U.S. correspondents abroad reached its peak in the 1980s, when -- by my count, using Hamilton's statistics -- a couple hundred journalists were reporting from around the world for newspapers, magazines, and television. Recent cutbacks have been deep. Hamilton cites a 2008 study of 250 U.S. newspapers that concluded that foreign news was "rapidly losing ground at rates greater than any other topic area."
The underlying question raised in Journalism's Roving Eye, then, is whether the kind of foreign reporting that Hamilton chronicles is in inexorable decline. And if so, how much does this matter to the broader craft of journalism and to the greater public good?
In recent years, newspapers and magazines that once enjoyed
substantial and well-funded bureaus abroad have been forced to cut back,
if not shutter entirely, their overseas operations. In the glory days, a
bureau chief stationed abroad for a major U.S. publication had
perquisites and accommodations comparable to those afforded high-level
diplomats. Most news bureaus nowadays consist of a reporter; a local
"fixer," who handles logistics and interpretation; a laptop; a cell
phone; and a modest apartment that doubles as an office. U.S. television
correspondents based abroad are few in number, except for those who work
News organizations have sharply scaled back their coverage in
But there is a flip side to this admittedly glum assessment: the
English-language wire services -- the
All this suggests that as some opportunities and outlets for
international reporting have narrowed, others have widened -- any young
reporter with modest cash reserves and a willingness to live simply
still has a fair shot of becoming a stringer in remote but roiling
places. GlobalPost, for example, is a new
Today, anyone with enough interest to make the effort can be well
informed about the world. But is the situation better or worse than it
was in Hamilton's golden age, 75 years ago? In 1969, as he neared the
end of his career,
Nonetheless, the long view offered in Hamilton's book suggests that today's culture of foreign reporting is shaped by both historical techniques and the capabilities of the Internet age. Although no one is required to file in "cablese" -- the often indecipherable shorthand long used to save money and transmission time -- there are blogs and Twitter feeds that amount to the same thing: they sketch the news in real time, although on mobile devices instead of ticker tape.
The rigor and rewards of being a foreign correspondent remain, as do
the dangers. The videotaped murder of
JOURNALISM'S CORE MUSCLES
The decline in the fortunes of print newspapers does suggest the end
of an era, however. Jones' book presents what is at risk of being lost:
what he calls "the iron core" of journalism, which comes from
shoe-leather reporting, experience, and, often, courage. Jones calls
this particular brand of journalism "accountability news" because, as he
writes, "it is the form of news whose purpose is to hold government and
those with power accountable." Democracy in
This genre of reporting stands apart from flip, glib, and entertaining opinion-driven commentary -- the fast food that nourishes much of the blog culture, which is relatively cheap to produce compared to in-depth investigations and systematic coverage of local and national beats.
And yet the future of such news is in danger. Jones argues that Americans must recognize and respond to this growing crisis. Entrenched business and political leaders, for whom journalism has often been an infuriating nuisance, cannot be counted on to save it, especially not in large cities, which is where newspapers are in the most trouble.
To replace what is being lost, resources must be found from the private sector, philanthropists, and even the government. On this point, Jones' book, as well as Hamilton's, offers another, more hopeful message: innovation and entrepreneurship never end, and in the future, journalists will gather the news using methods not yet created.
It is a human impulse to collect and disseminate information. The means of delivering news will change but not the need for gathering it. And so journalism will always exist in one form or another. Yet those who see journalism as a calling are right to worry about the pressures imposed by those who see it only as a moneymaker and by those determined to limit its intrusive qualities. Some battles are never over.
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World - An Elegy for Journalism? The Future of the News and Journalism | Peter Osnos
(c) 2009 Peter Osnos - Foreign Affairs