Expert panel discusses the future of journalism
Published: Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Updated: Monday, May 7, 2012 21:05
The department of journalism at Baruch hosted a panel discussion on the topic of the future of the industry last Tuesday evening. The discussion amassed experts in the field to discuss their views on the trends in the industry – and what they felt was the best way to react.
Being that the future of journalism is something that is very unclear and speculative at this point, much of what was discussed left audience members with mixed feelings about the media’s effectiveness.
The event took place in the Baruch Performing Arts Center, and drew in faculty, students and outside guests alike to partake in the discussion. After being seated in the Engelman Recital Hall, audience members were offered guest-enabled Wi-Fi, and a pre-determined “trending topic” to use on Twitter during the conversation.
Despite giggles elicited from the crowd, dozens of smartphones were soon in view, testing the functionality of the WiFi – and poring over Twitter feeds to see if anyone would really contribute. Within minutes, it became clear that the feed, originally used as a joke, became a serious forum for sharing quotes by the speakers, and discussing their claims without disrupting the flow of the evening.
Upon his introduction of the event, Journalism Department Chair Joshua Mills described the hope that newspapers have been experiencing increased circulation. “Newspapers have been increasing their numbers,” he said, “and it’s due to the increased number of New York Times online subscribers.”
Although he admitted that the improvements aren’t across the board, Mills claimed, “at least some newspapers are figuring out the new world, and are making the transition – and while there are still many newspapers that have reduced their number of foreign correspondents and reduced the coverage area, there is still some hope in these numbers.” Other members of the panel agreed.
“The future is upon us,” said panelist Dr. Karen Dunlap. President of the Poynter Institute, a think tank focused on journalism. Dunlap used her 30 years of experience to discuss the trends in the media. She, like many others, recognized that journalism is changing the way it operates, not just how well it does.
Jeff Jarvis, director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, blamed the structure of the industry for its decay, not the industry itself.
“We journalists have become irresponsible stewards of journalism, and we are at fault for the state that journalism is in. Or rather, the shape that the institutions are in,” said Jarvis
This accountability placed upon journalists, however, is less indicative of the trends in the field than it is of the way the tools are being utilized.
“Journalism is in great shape; it’s expanding, it’s growing, it’s doing things that have never been done before,” Jarvis proudly said.
The technology for the production of journalism has improved, but the basic format is still around – and struggling.
“It’s easy to forget that it’s an industrial process,” said Joshua Benton, a relatively quiet member of the panel.
The primary focus of the night was how journalism will continue to develop, despite the changes it has undergone. “I believe that this is a time of incredible opportunity,” said Jeff Jarvis, “and I want to concentrate on that because it’s the only sane thing to do – because when we are faced with change, there are three options.”
“We can try to ignore it which is insane, we can try to stop it which is impossible, or we can embrace it and find the opportunity in it,” Jarvis said intently, peering out at the audience.
“The stories are changing. I would call them ‘multi-generated’ news stories now,” Dunlap said, describing the new format of journalism. She described the ways in which the media has become a vehicle with many different available avenues of information sharing, with emphasis on how technology has allowed contributors to add to others’ material.
“It’s a struggle,” exclaimed Jay Rosen, fellow panelist and professor at NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. “There is a struggle to make the practice of journalism more open.”
Despite attempts to focus the efforts of industry development on the improvement of their own environment, blame is often placed on outside entities, such as social networking sites, for hijacking the innovations of journalism.
“Facebook uses our steel, media steel, to make their cars, and that’s how they get the value out of it,” Rosen exclaimed. “You can see in Facebook our connections, you can see in Twitter our innovation.”
“There are enormous opportunities for journalism right now, amidst all of this catastrophe,” said Dean Starkman, editor of The Audit, the business section of the Columbia Journalism Review.
Although the five panelists boasted impressive resumes, their contributions often came across as thin, and poorly thought-out. Starkman’s response to the first question, regarding the “Hamster Wheel” of journalism, elicited rapid, incoherent sentence fragments.
Rosen emphasized the responsibility on students, such as those in the Baruch journalism department, to make the best of the changes being faced by the media.
“It is our responsibility to question the responses of the past,” he said, “and, with that, we can build a new and vibrant future.”