Why Journalism Still Matters in Our State and Our Country

As
newspapers across California and the nation continue to shed record
numbers of staff, the profession of journalism seems to be headed
toward extinction.The implications this has
on a democracy such as ours is both sobering and obvious.

When there
are no professionally trained reporters left to watch the proverbial
“cash box,” (e.g. government), guess what is likely to go missing?
Democratic governments remain democratic only when a free press is
there to report on what they do and how they spend the people’s money.

Make no mistake, the newspaper industry has mostly itself to blame for what is happening. Combine
a lack of leadership, an inability to embrace new technologies and
delivery systems (like acknowledging that the Internet really does
exist), board-driven greed, mergers, massive debt and you have a
caustic brew that is dissolving an industry right before our very eyes. So
given this apocalyptic vision you’d think that the last place a
self-respecting college student would find him or herself would be in
the halls of a college journalism school.

After all, there’s no future
in newspapers, right?

Put the tarps over the equipment, cue the
crickets and would the last one out please turn out the lights?

Right?

Wrong.

While
newspapers themselves appear to be headed the way of the dinosaur,
increasing numbers of undergraduates are flocking to the nation’s
journalism schools.

Check out this piece in the Baltimore Sun. And for those of us who like our government(s) covered the way we like our steaks — well done — this is a good thing.

The
fact that these kids get the importance of the business and want to do
the hard work of learning the craft is reassuring. What will be different for them is the delivery vehicle.

The last real “print’ newspaper experience they’re likely to have is the one they’re involved with now in college. Most
will learn that it doesn’t matter whether their work is read on
newsprint, a computer screen or some kind of handheld device. What does still matter is the words they use.

What does still matter is the reporting techniques and research methods they employ.

What does still matter is the ethics, depth of sourcing and interviewing skills they display

These are the things that matter in journalism. So while these young charges go through their classes and get aboard their
college student papers, Web sites or broadcast labs, it’s my hope that
they really will be put through their paces by their professors.

Digital
formats or not, it’s imperative, after all, that they learn the basics
of orthodox, competitive, shoe-leather-based reporting early on.

If
they survive this school of hard knocks and don’t wash out, then they
will have a chance of making it in a profession where practitioners
question authority and speak truth to power. As a
good number of these kids will find out, journalism isn’t a job for
everyone, but it is a job that our democracy depends on.

And that makes
it pretty special.

Jeff Mitchell is a longtime (long in the tooth?) California journalist and political observer.