Some of us in the news business wonder where things are headed. At a time when most people are going to online sources like Wikipedia, TMZ and the so-called blogosphere (somebody’s got to come up with a better term…); when budgets are shrinking, hiring has stopped and news outlets are closing, you have to ask just what does the future hold, and how will it affect those of us who think of ourselves as journalists?
The first thing I ask is: What is journalism? At a recent conference Yahoo EVP Hilary Schneider summed it up quite neatly in PowerPointese:
- Obligation to truth
- Loyalty to citizens
- Discipline of verifications
- Maintain an independence
- Serve as an independent monitor of power
- Forum for public criticism & compromise
- Make the significant interesting & relevant
- Keep the news comprehensive & proportional
- Exercise personal conscience
Some people call this high minded. I call it purpose, and perhaps the primary reason why the news business — if managed correctly through smart financial practices, good hiring and a strong, clear editorial vision that exploits the interconnectedness, searchability and public discourse of the Web — will have a future, even if it’s one of a smaller scale than now.
Earlier this week, New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller gave this year’s Hugo Young Lecture to members of the British press. I wasn’t there, but thanks to the Web, a transcript is available for everyone to read.
If you are committed to, or at least curious about the news business, I suggest you read it. You may think differently, that Keller, in the penthouse of the NYT ivory tower, still doesn’t get it. You may say people want to be entertained and informed by sources they trust, and they don’t trust journalists.
Maybe so. But that’s all the more reason for news organizations to get things right in this new age of news information. The Web’s beauty is it gives old institutions a new chance to win public confidence and admiration with the powerful tools at its disposal: a tremendous and creative reporting operation and professional standards that include in-house as well as public accountability.