Walter Cronkite 248.88 AP.
(photo credit: AP)
Years ago when I was a young student my father encouraged me regularly - much to my chagrin - to read The New York Times. He said I needed to understand the world.
I vividly recollect sitting on the living room floor, the open newspaper seeming larger than I was, as I struggled to understand the words. I also recall clearly the many grueling hours I spent later gazing at the black-and-white broadsheet, trying to comprehend the context of the stories for my social studies assignments.
As the clock has rung in 2010, these images remain seared in my mind, but they are memories from a different era. Now, as our technology-driven world soars toward new realms, we are witnessing a surge of information with massive reach. Simultaneously, we have been left with a sense of the erosion of journalism as the news industry readjusts its economic models and reinvents itself. As a result, the standards, ethics and sourcing rules which guided our newspapers for generations are evaporating.
Hot off the press, The New York Times recently published an item about the Dallas Morning News requiring some of its mid-level newsroom managers to report to the advertising department - a nefarious "first" in the newspaper industry's history and an ominous occurrence on the broader journalistic horizon.
As newspapers become slimmer, and as tens of thousands of journalists sit unemployed, many news desks find themselves operating without the financial resources necessary to send reporters across town, much less overseas. Economically, it's no wonder that the Dallas Morning News resorted to a journalistically repugnant realignment.
When America's leading newspapers are utilizing bloggers as credible sources, and when too many international news articles are written neither from the country depicted nor inclusive of sources from the street, the results range from incomplete to incorrect. In either case, they stand as perversions of quality journalism. The regional American press is no longer providing original reporting in the international arena outside of, in some cases, accompanying local troop units to Iraq. They are not dealing with the overriding issues that impact Americans' daily lives. The Israeli print sector is grappling with many of the same economic challenges and resorting to many of the same troubling solutions.
When the public must rely on journalists in the field for accurate reporting, when history must rely on the media's documentation of world events and when the media drives public policy, our society must not do away with the traditional standards that guide reporting. Rather, the new schools - technologically speaking - should demand a return to the old schools' standards. And the Internet journalism of the New World Order must enhance reportage by traditional print and broadcast news outlets.
A COLUMBIA Journalism Review study by Leonard Downie Jr. and Michael Schudson dealing with "The Reconstruction of American Journalism" looked at the dying newspaper industry and the rollout of new journalistic models today. One of those suggested was the nonprofit news model. Having run an American nonprofit news organization covering the Middle East for more than a decade, I believe an industry-wide wake-up call is very much in order.
A person in need of surgery no doubt seeks out the most qualified professional in the appropriate field - a distinction determined by training, experience and integrity. Journalism should not be any different. It is the lifeline upon which the course of action for decision-makers on all levels and in all disciplines is predicated: from business to public affairs to health and much more.
As we enter the new year, I urge my colleagues in the media to support higher ethical standards: to take back journalism. I hope the public will support media industries - for-profit and nonprofit alike - and understand well how important those standards are to all.
Americans looked to the late Walter Cronkite as a model of journalistic integrity. He set the bar for integrity "the way it should be." It is up to us to follow his example in these new times.
And one more thing: If you're reading this article in the print edition of The Jerusalem Post, remember well the feel of the paper, the sound of the crunching pages, the smudge of ink on your fingers and the smell of newsprint. You'll never experience it online.
The writer is the president and CEO of The Media Line, a nonprofit American news agency specializing in coverage of the Middle East, and founder of the Mideast Press Club.
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