About two weeks ago, Bill Keller, the executive editor of the New York Times, delivered a passionate speech in London at an event organized by the Guardian newspaper. His assignment is to discuss what he calls the "beleaguered" state of American newspapers, and he goes through a fairly substantial list of woes that plague modern day journalism. Starting off with the Bush administration, he calls the current US government press-phobic: "First, he [Bush] has rejected out of hand the quaint idea of our founders that the press has a constructive role to play in American society, and that this role consists in supplying citizens with the information to judge whether they are being well served by their government. The Bush administration believes that information is power, and that like most other forms of power it is not to be shared with those the regime does not trust. It most decidedly does not trust us. " I'll let readers make up their minds about that last quote. Keller goes on to discuss the role of technology, and specifically how the lower barriers of entry have had a serious impact on newspapers' circulations. He is harshly critical of bloggers and the citizen journalism movement and is worried that prominent bloggers such as Jeff Jarvis "suggests that the mainstream media can be largely replaced by a self-regulating democracy of voices, the wisdom of the crowd. " (note: Jarvis retorts that this is an inaccurate quote). He then goes on to say that newspapers have the advantage because they are higher up the value chain than bloggers or online news sources. They have two main assets: "One is that we deploy worldwide a corps of trained, skilled reporters to witness events and help our readers understand them. This work is expensive, laborious, sometimes unpopular, and occasionally perilous." I couldn't agree more with Keller on this point. The second asset, he claims, is "that we [mainstream media] have a rigorous set of standards. We have a code of accuracy and fairness we pledge to uphold, a high standard of independence we defend at all costs, and a structure of editorial supervision to enforce our standards." I'm not so sure this advantage holds in all situations. But I think you get the point. Keller takes a very defensive stance, trying to portray a view that is distinctly mainstream media vs online media (which includes blogs). I think the New York Times is a great news organization, but it never ceases to amaze me how the views of some of the mainstream media vanguards seem so defensive. Great journalism has never been more in demand. Its just a question of who will deliver it - the opportunity exists for those who want so seize it, whether its bloggers or ‘mainstream’ journalists. Content will always be king, and readers will go to wherever they can get the highest quality, most credible news. Instead of competing with each other, bloggers and journalists should just focus on reporting to the best of their abilities and complementing each other. Its not a zero-sum game. It's a new game altogether, and no one is saying the bloggers or other online news sources will replace professional journalism. This will never happen (at least I hope not). But we can't escape the truth: the news media landscape has transformed completely, and Bill Keller should leverage all the wonderful, time-tested qualities of mainstream media organizations, and work with the new media players to uphold the enormous responsibility placed on their combined shoulders: supplying citizens with high quality, credible news so that we have access to the best possible information to form our opinions about the world we live in. So here's a toast to everyone making this happen! From Bill Keller to the brave legion of professional journalists. But also to the innumerable bloggers and citizen journalists around the world who slave away at their computers to bring us the news.
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