Sid Tafler

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Can democracy survive without journalism?

Journalism is dying. Can democracy survive?
What was journalism, once practiced throughout the western world,
has largely been replaced by rumor-mongering, blatant promotion and parroting,
mindless opinion writing, blather about consuming, celebrity, and worst of all, the reporter him/herself.
Do you need examples? Here is one of many. A realtor friend tells me the industry news releases he receives are printed verbatim in the so-called
newspaper in his city.
Real journalism is simply truth-finding and reporting. There is a huge
vacancy of these practices among the organs of our so-called news
media in the 2010s.
This is the result of the layoff and dismissal of thousands of journalists,
the demise and repurposing of hundreds of newspapers and other news outlets
in the last twenty years.
There may still be some reporting being practiced in isolated
pockets, but there’s no longer enough to maintain a viable culture of
journalism. That requires a critical mass of information-sharing,
feedback, competition, advancement, support from publishers and media owners,
all of which are severely lacking.
I challenge the readers of this essay: prove me wrong. Show me enough viable examples of the real thing, in the print or broadcast media or online.
Now to my question about democracy. My answer is “not likely.”
Democracy cannot survive without public awareness. If media outlets
no longer effectively explain and analyze the issues, the records and
platforms of the parties and candidates, how can voters decide who
to elect? Perhaps this partially explains why many people
have given up on democracy and no longer vote.
Perhaps democracy is on life-support, like a terminal patient on
oxygen. Will we witness its demise in the coming years, or will it
miraculously recover, given new life through new sources of information, disseminated by citizen journalists or the next generation of young reporters
through emerging forms of digital and electronic media

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    Feb 15 2013: Sid,

    If you define journalism as the objective reporting of 'truth,' I'd agree democracy can't survive without it. That said, if such journalism is understood as not only 'professional' or 'paid' journalism, but as any objective reporting of the truth, I'd say there's less to worry about.

    Any citizen anywhere who reports objective and true facts is, in my view, akin to a 'journalist.' And this has been a factor in democracies before professional publications were produced and since professional publications, as you note, have become systemically corrupted. Thus, there has never and will never be any real threat of the annihilation of journalism. But all this wrestles with semantics and philosophy.

    Better Q's are: who and what defines 'objective and true' journalism?
    Can non-professional citizen journalists report the news sufficient to meet the definition of 'journalist?'
    And, is there such a thing as absolutely objective and true information?

    My view:
    Yes, citizen journalists can report news and raise awareness sufficient for democracy.
    I'd say anyone who communicates objectively and truthfully, even through things like the arts or casual conversations, can report equally as effectively as 'professional journalists.'
    But, to the Q of whether there is such thing as absolutely objective and true information, I'd say: No.
    All information, regardless where it comes from and whom communicates it, is informed by both the 'where' and 'whom,' and many more factors. Including audience and context(s). All can, and do, effect relative objectivity and truth.

    To bring this together.
    Most 'professional journalism' is corrupted, to varied extent. Primarily due to money and power interests, which always impact democratic outcomes. Since both are near omnipresent, meaningful 'citizen journalism' is critical to democracy. But, it, too, can be far from perfect.

    So one more Q to ask: Which journalists, professional or non-, are relatively more trustworthy?

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    Lejan .

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    Feb 14 2013: Journalism has never been free, has it?

    Print media, TV and their digital 'remakes' - all of them, at least the 'big ones' are full of commercials, which are paid by 'the big ones' of the industry.

    And how often can a journalist, a publisher, bite the hand who feeds him?

    Actually, the time has never been as good for uncensored journalism as it is today!

    By the use of digital media, the main costs of publishing get eliminated to almost zero, thus the necessity for commercials, alias 'censorship', is completely eliminated!

    No paper, no printing ink, no transport logistic, no satellite necessary anymore.

    Just some server capacity and the journalists salary, that's all you need today to reach your readers and this even worldwide! So why on earth should those perfect conditions be the end of journalism and not its very pure beginning?

    And the same goes for democracy, as there is no need anymore to keep any paying customers of 'the industry' happy, which is the best condition for any investigative journalism anyway.

    So why should journalism fail if it could actually thrive?

    And why do you think those new forms of information, such as 'WikiLeaks', are actually feared by so called 'democracies', instead of being welcomed? Why do you think did 'they' block easy payment methods for this site? Why this 'witch-hunt' of it's founder?

    Information has always been the source of power of any ruling class, yet who is actually the ruling-class in a democracy? Isn't it us, the people? There is a new era dawning, if 'we' would just allow it.
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      Feb 15 2013: Lejan,

      I could not agree more.

      Here's one attempt of mine: A cross-partisan cross-sector communications and engagement vehicle. Another, "WetheP" is coming soon -- a much bigger For-Benefit effort (a hybrid For- and Non-profit company, specifically to avoid the conflicting challenges both types struggle with).

      We'll measure our success not only on how much money the Company makes, but equally as much on how effective we are in engaging democratic outcomes with and for stakeholders. The latter, of course, is critically implicit for balancing the inherent conflicts of for-profit-only journalism, which too often is beholden to advertising and hidden interests related to money, influence and hierarchal power.

      In any case, I'm with you: the biggest challenge for us as individuals, companies and communities will be 'just allowing' ourselves to embrace this new way of communicating information critical to democracy. While this challenge implies the concern, if not expectation, of repression or obstruction by hierarchal powers-that-be, it it also gets at the reticence or apathy of citizens, a more complex problem that will need much coaxing. Citizens in much of the world and more particularly in Western societies, have come to perceive themselves as consumers of information and the benefits of democracy, rather than co-curators of either and both. It likely goes without saying this "not my job" attitude is pervasive in the United States, where I live. Not necessarily because citizens don't care, more because they aren't used to being so intrinsic to the practices that inform democracy, beyond voting.

      To capitalize on today's unprecedented opportunities is to accept and 'own' a position(s) of power in this new realm by intentionally engaging and communicating as co-leaders of society.

      Delighted to see you're onto this all. Indeed, a new and exciting era is dawning for deeper and more authentic democratic practices around the world!

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    Feb 13 2013: Democracy can not survive without a free press. But if there is a press that successfully runs on the illussion of freedom, what we will have at the end of the day is an illussion of democracy.
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    Feb 13 2013: Firstly, I feel it's necessary to acknowledge that producing democracy-sustaining journalism is no easy task. "Real journalism is simply truth-finding and reporting" makes it sound like child's play, which it isn't. I don't think journalism has ever been free from the taint of bias or sensationalism, and in fact, the public is probably less gullible now that, say, 100 years ago.

    I think the problems come largely from the different rates of changing media and changing tactics. Journalism and democracy are both having some serious identity crises, and the results aren't always impressive. I don't think I can prove you wrong -- but I don't think that means no one is trying.
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      Feb 19 2013: I think part of the challenge of providing proofs here is the bigness and complexity of concepts like 'democracy' and 'free press.' Identity crisis, indeed. I wish there was more public discourse about the varieties and dimensions and degrees of democracy. We so often fall into a habit of referring to it a singular entity.
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    Feb 19 2013: I always appreciate critical public discourse about journalism. I think overall, I disagree with you, Sid - but perhaps I agree in this sense: it is very hard to find good journalism.

    But like Lejan, I believe that journalism has always struggled, and not always succeeded, to be more than public relations for hire. Certainly some news agencies have done better than others. And certainly some reporters have done better than others. Just like good science, good investigative journalism needs to find better ways to acknowledge and resist structural bias. And as critiques of journalism, I think we have a duty to quantify our concerns with hard data. That's no small chore.

    I am very much interested to see what happens to 'journalism' in the next couple of decades. There's so much potential.
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    Feb 14 2013: A free populace without a free press? Impossible. As the ethics of journalism deteriorate, so do our freedoms.
    The great Walter Lippmann said: "Cronyism is the curse of journalism. After many years I have reached the firm conclusion that it is impossible for any objective newspaper man to be a friend of a President." Eric Sevareid agreed as indicated in his commentary in 1959: "The bigger the information media, the less courage and freedom they allow. Bigness means weakness."
  • Feb 13 2013: No. It is barely surviving with it. Capitalism destroyed Journalism. Corporate need for ever increasing profits closed news organs and promoted the internet sources of news/babble/tripe, it is cheaper.
  • Feb 13 2013: I see real problems too.