Reflection on Journalism

July 31, 2009

I graduated from a four year program in Social Communication, major in Journalism, in Brazil. I worked for a newspaper that had the highest readership in Rio Grande do Sul, in the state where I lived, and the fifth highest readership in the country. I had reporter credentials and would ride through the city in the newspaper’s cars, and everyone would think that there was some element of glamour to my job. I worked with very experienced reporters who had years and years of experience interviewing, reporting, fact checking, editing, and publishing. They had many journalism awards, and I could foresee a bright career for myself reflected in their experience. I could feel a spark when I dug into a filthy story, a flash when I heard that perfect sentence in an interview that would fit the outline I had planned, and I would absolutely love to be with people, talk to people, and learn with people every single day.

I decided to study online journalism because I started seeing changes with the Web 2.0, and then Web 3.0, but at that time I could only think that journalism was getting better, and that we were more successfully communicating with our audience – all thanks to the technology. I ended up writing my thesis on newsworthiness criteria in Second Life, forecasting our virtual world reporting, and our lives in the abstract definition of virtual from the cyber theorist Pierre Levy. However, going back to the reality in our virtual world I realized that not only I was a blogger but so were all of my friends – even the engineers. I also noticed that the newspaper that employed me was laying off more and more people, that they had started seeking for different ways to make money, and that they even had created a tabloid with nude women on the front page and numerous pages about soccer and crimes. Some of the bloggers became very popular, and suddenly we were all on Orkut, the Google social network that is extremely popular in Brazil. The newspaper went through a massive restructuring- they wanted to have a more serious online news site, they wanted to have immediate news – oh, they would not think of Twitter at that time, and they wanted to get more ad revenue from the website. The website started losing value because it became packed with ads. All of this happened in a period of three years.

I quit my job, I abandoned my hopes of being a journalist – at least the way I thought that I would be when I went to college, and I decided to look for a Masters in Digital Media. I needed to understand these changes. When I finally got into the masters program at UW the director said: Raquel, journalism is dead.

So then last class we were discussing examples of good hyperlocal journalism, and one of my classmates brought up the fact that our guest speaker, Cory Bergman, from was valuing the experience and quality of his journalists, and for a moment I didn’t feel that I had spent so many years of my life doing something that was disappearing. Journalism is worth it, I thought. And then, couple of minutes after that, we went back to the discussion that “we are all journalists now”, that we don’t need to go to college to write well, that many good journalists were not trained is a small market niche. I can see news saturation in a short period of time when more than two media organizations cover the same neighborhood. Even though the newsworthiness criteria change in hyperlocal journalism –even the cute puppy you see on the street becomes news – people do not have time to check more than one news source and they do not have patience to see the same bike accident twice, although they may have patience to see the puppy twice.

In the other part of the class we discussed journalism being publicly funded, and I just felt bad thinking of journalism as a non-profit organization. It felt like news was some sort of deep and serious problem in the society, analogous to disease, poverty, and environmental degradation, for which we would have to raise money to help alleviate. Do I see future in that matter? No, I don’t. Thinking especially of the third world, I can’t imagine a person who is going to donate a cent to news when you walk out your door and see children begging for money. You don’t need the news to see the problems in your country. If you want to support a cause, you are not going to help someone to write about the problem.

So what now? I ask how scribes felt on those days when they were seeing their profession disappear with the emergence of printing. Those scribes that one day were so important, that would spend so many hours of their lives enhancing their calligraphy with more practice, that would be improving fonts to increase readability, that were so necessary to spread information, knowledge and culture, they were gone. At the end of the day, what did they do? According to the Wikipedia, “later the profession developed into public servants, journalists, accountants and lawyers.” I always thought that people disliked lawyers more than journalists, but apparently all the glamour of the journalism profession made everyone else to find their own shinny light and sparks.  And now we are just waiting for our extinction.