Journalism is dead. Long live journalism!

Article by Tom Chmielewski, Writer/Editor/Publisher of ‹TEC Publishing and InterCom’s Treasurer.  

The age-old refrain announcing the death of one king and proclaiming the new reign of his heir can be applied to the current state of local reporting, but editors and reporters are finding the crown of the latest New Journalism rests uneasily on their heads. The old ways of journalism are still breathing, but barely, and the latest attempts at reporting the news are suffering from extended immaturity. Publishers are having a hard time making the new ways work financially as they transition from newspapers to new media.

The unfortunate result for local communities such as Kalamazoo is a decreasing level of resources to report local news. Yet even if the outlook for local journalism is murky, it’s not necessarily bleak. There are instances, both in Kalamazoo and statewide, where journalism is being practiced well. InterCom is hosting two events, the first in May, to explore what is working in journalism, and what we can learn from it.

With InterCom’s May 19 panel discussion, BREAKING the News Part I, we’re bringing in representatives of news organizations that recognize the importance of local journalism in Michigan and can provide a state-level perspective of how local reporting can still be practiced.

Hearing an outside perspective can be valuable for those of us in Kalamazoo who recognize the need to devote more resources to local reporting, and help us effectively use those resources in a viable manner. In a follow-up session in August, BREAKING the News Part II, InterCom will take a closer look at efforts by Kalamazoo media outlets and how communicators can find new avenues to share stories of Kalamazoo with the public.

The Reinvention Cycle

It may seem like a daunting task to find new ways to report local news, but journalism has done it before. It’s how American journalism got its start back in the 1800s when newspapers switched from recording actions by state and national legislatures (while their publishers pontificated about the results), to reporting on news events in a relatively small area around a publication’s office. A number of newspapers began publishing with a raucous style of reporting, sensationalist headlines, and outright hoaxes being foisted on the reading public. European newspapers at first decried the American style of event journalism, but with the advent of electronic reporting via the telegraph and then the telephone, the disruptive forces of technology and ingenuity laid the old style of newspapers to rest.

Sound familiar?

With the means to publish to a wide audience available on anyone’s laptop or tablet, and the ability for anyone with a smart phone to broadcast live, on-the-scene updates, we’re really back to where American journalism started, with all its rough-hewn edges, false starts and too-often hidden gems. If old models no longer work, new business models will adapt to the current changes. As our screens are flooded with click-bait headlines of redundant, empty promises, there’s a growing recognition of the context and depth of stories we’ve been missing. Even Facebook has announced it will give less importance to click-bait sites in its ad placements and give higher rankings to sites with context and depth.

Publishers of the latest outlets of journalism, sometimes mixing old forms with new, are still finding their way. But once they do, you won’t believe what happens next.

Actually, if it’s good journalism, maybe you will.

Photo: New York Times newsroom, 1942. (Library of Congress)