Journalism’s true challenge
By JEREMY RUDEN
Journalism is facing perhaps its biggest crisis yet but we need good news people more than ever.
Last week, the US website CareerCast published its annual ranking of the best
and worst jobs in the American market.
The site, an industry leader on
the subject of employment trends, examined 200 professions and compiled the list
taking into account factors including work environment, stress, physical
demands, hiring outlook and salary.
The results were not promising for
folks in the news business. For the first time in the site’s history, two key
media positions could be found in the bottom 10; newspaper reporters and
To quote the site: “As the digital world continues
to take over, the need for print newspapers and daily newscasts is diminishing.
Both jobs once seemed glamorous, but on-the-job stress, declining opportunities
and income levels are what landed them on the Worst Jobs list.”
been written over the past few years about the economics of producing the news
and how the Internet has eaten into traditional media’s revenue streams, and
that’s true. What many of these writers have overlooked is the fact that
producing news was never a particularly profitable business to begin
The truth is that it’s a huge operation and breaking even on the
balance sheets has been an uncommon event for quite a while. News is the most
expensive kind of television to produce. The staff, logistics and resources
needed doesn’t come cheap and networks would just as soon try out a new series.
The alternatives now found on the Internet only made a bad situation
One thing that has changed drastically in news organizations is
their ability to differentiate themselves from their competitors. What will keep
people coming back to a specific newspaper or newscast? That has been the main
question which has been burned into every news executive’s mind. The answer, of
course, has varied from cost-cutting to finding good stories and conducting
thorough investigative journalism.
One tried and true method of building
and retaining an audience is to hire and develop journalists and broadcasters
with the hope they develop a rapport with the public.
At the end of the
day, it was always a matter of trust and likability. Who would you let into your
living room every night? If a reader or viewer had a positive emotional reaction
that increased the chances they would be back.
But might that be changing
as well? Over the past couple of weeks, two high-profile news personalities from
different eras were the topic of much discussion that just might indicate
another reason the profession of a broadcaster is now considered a poor career
First, the broadcast world lost Mike Wallace earlier this month.
The iconic CBS newsman spent a mind boggling 65 years on television and followed
in the footsteps of such TV icons as Walter Winchell and Edward R. Murrow.
First, Wallace paid his dues by doing commercials and hosting local TV shows.
Then he went on to spend four decades with 60 Minutes, which is arguably
America’s top news magazine, thanks in part to him. He was meticulous, pulling
no punches. Over the years he locked horns with some of world’s most notorious
I spent time watching some of his interviews. He had no problem
finding a nice way to ask a really tough question and sticking with it until he
got a response. Wallace was part of a different generation of journalists who
worked within the system and the confines of a certain set of journalistic
ethics. People respected him, even those whom he went after.
On the other
hand, last week we got the much hyped debut of WikiLeaks Editor in Chief Julian
Assange’s new TV program, The World Tomorrow, in which he interviewed Hezbollah
General Secretary Hassan Nasrallah. Nasrallah hadn’t sat down for an interview
with a Western journalist since 2006 so it was a coup for Assange, even though
it was done via videolink and was heavily edited.
Putting aside the
speculations about Assange’s agendas, the interview itself was poor. Nasrallah
got a free pass to spew his lies about Israel. When asked how he can support the
Syrian regime at a time when Damascus is slaughtering its own people, Nasrallah
came up with the excuse that because Assad has supported the “resistance”
(i.e. the destruction of Israel), he should stay in
Contradiction after contradiction, lie after lie and Assange did
The one time he tried to press Nasrallah it didn’t work and the
Hezbollah leader had the upper hand throughout the interview. Assange might have
gotten people talking about his show, but it came at the cost of the truth and
any sense of balance that should be an integral part of a production like
Assange is, without a doubt, the most controversial name in
journalism today. He has taken on a clandestine, subversive strategy to
disseminate huge amounts of information.
Democracies are scratching their
heads over what to do about him but news organizations have an even bigger,
perhaps existential, dilemma on their hands. Either stoop to the level of
WikiLeaks (i.e. steal information by hacking, encourage whistle-blowing) to get
good stories or face the risk of being left behind. Often that is a chance that
outlets can’t afford to take, especially in today’s poor economic
So journalism is facing perhaps its biggest crisis yet but we
need good news people more than ever. The reason for that is the abundance of
data. Right now, the amount of material available to the general public on the
Internet is staggering.
Some of it is true while some is exaggerated or
just plain false. If in the past, we needed reporters and producers to uncover
information, now we need them to sift through and verify it while cluing us in
on what’s important. We need those responsible individuals, with a strong moral
compass, to provide us with context on matters we know little or nothing about.
These are the tasks we need the new generation of journalists to perform, but
based on CareerCast’s predictions we might be on our own sooner than
The writer is an independent media consultant and a former
producer at the Fox News Channel. Jeremy@jeremyruden.com