O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
-- William Shakespeare, Henry V
By Dale Peskin
Journalism that matters is an idea that has been around for a very long time.
Today’s journalists are caught in a paradox of their own time and making. We have more news and more influential journalism across an unprecedented range of media than at any time in civilization. Yet journalism is under assault from investors, from political leaders, from the general public, and even from journalists themselves. Today’s journalism suffers from a crisis of trust, a crisis of confidence, a crisis of leadership, and a crisis of vision. It lacks direction in our digital age. The tragedy is that journalism’s capacity to change the world for the better has never been greater.
The journalism paradox is easily explained. Its underlying cause is the growth in the cultural, political and economic value of information, facilitated by the emergence of new, inexpensive digital technologies to distribute and display news and commentary. It is widely understood that without abundant and accessible information from many sources we can neither have the democracy in which we believe nor the economic growth and consumer choice which we desire.
News, which was once difficult and expensive to obtain, today surrounds us like the air we breathe. Where once it had to be sought out in expensive printed pages or broadcast signals from visual space, today it is ubiquitous, immediate, and largely free at the point of consumption, be it in cyberspace or my space.
Of course there are issues with this new culture of news. Additional quality journalism would provide needed nutrition. But the problem is not so much a paucity of good journalism, but rather a glut of it. We find it difficult to sort the good from the bad. The fact that most of it is obtainable without direct payment may mean we value it less. As yet another generation grows up under the assumption that news is inexpensive, the economics of resource-intensive journalism, including in-depth investigations, are challenged but hardly dire. Many resourceful innovators outside the oxygen-depleted corridors of mainstream journalism are filling the void with energy, passion and money.
Journalism has an indelible effect on our view of the world and of our selves. It impacts our sense of belonging in our place in our time. It can threaten us or make us feel secure. It entertains and moves us. It imparts knowledge and, occasionally, wisdom. It gives us a way to measure our lives. It has the power to change the world. It matters.
It is time to move past the circular argument among thumb-suckers about who should do journalism, who should get paid for it. Journalism doesn’t wait for answers or for the “Next Newsroom.” What we need now, above all else, is for a lot of people just to do it well.