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Is it the End of Journalism?

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When Shirley Sherrod was fired from her USDA administrator job, it was the icing on the cake of journalism’s decline. The abbreviated video clip of her speech to the NAACP---delivered before being hired in her most recent job---had the blogs, media, government officials and White House abuzz for days. Sherrod had been “convicted” of racism before anyone took the time to fact check.

Fact checking is a staple of traditional journalism. Good and ethical media hold back from printing or posting news that hasn’t been thoroughly verified. But, in this instant Web 2.0 world, we are all publishers and citizen journalists. Nothing holds any of us back from publishing content online, whether truthful, questionable, or outright misleading.

We have reached a slippery slope where none of us can truly determine what is real from what is fabricated or twisted. And just because we can post a link to another site for reference, who’s to say that what’s posted there has any merit?

The news, which used to be comprised of important topics affecting our world community, now include reports on Lindsay Lohan’s jail time, the latest viral YouTube videos, and countless reports on a sports figure’s trade to another team. Has America dumbed down this much?

I’m waiting for the pendulum to complete its swing and return to its central position on the fulcrum. I’m waiting for people to realize that real journalism doesn’t come from bloggers like Andrew Breitbart (who posted Sherrod’s speech). It isn’t coming from CNN’s ireporters, or from biased opinion pieces or op-ed shows. It comes from investigative journalists who work on news ethically and impartially using the 5 Ws  (who, what, where, when and why).

What do you think? Is journalism dead or are we in some type of transition? What do you think of citizen journalism?

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A Canadian who relocated to the U.S., Elaine Fogel is president and CMO of SOLUTIONS Marketing & Consulting LLC, a boutique marketing and communications agency located in Scottsdale, Arizona. During her career, Elaine has worked for, and with, many organizations, associations, and businesses, across North America, on marketing strategy and communications tactics.

From her earlier agency career assignments freelance copywriting Procter & Gamble, Nestlé Carnation, and Kraft materials, to “inside” senior-level marketing positions, Elaine’s passion for marketing has evolved to helping clients reach new heights through strategic brand-building, integrated marketing communications, and customer orientation.

She has been a contributing writer for The Business Journal and her articles have appeared in many publications, including the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Marketing News, The Arizona Republic, Advancing Philanthropy, and several association publications. She has been interviewed by CNN, Connect Magazine, and The Capitol Times, and her content was included in Guerrilla Marketing for Nonprofits by Jay Conrad Levinson, Frank Adkins, and Chris Forbes. Nonprofit Consulting Essentials by Penelope Cagney. and Share of Mind, Share of Heart by Sybil F. Stershic.

Elaine is a Faculty Associate at the Arizona State University Lodestar Center for Philanthropy & Nonprofit Innovation and a professional member of the National Speakers Association – she does keynotes and presentations on business and nonprofit marketing, branding, customer orientation, and cause marketing at conferences and meetings.

Elaine’s career has also included stints as a cookbook author, teacher, singer, and television show host. A golf and tennis enthusiast, Elaine is enjoying life in the sunny Sonoran Desert while serving clients across North America.

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  • by David Waldman Mon Aug 2, 2010 via blog

    I agree with you as to what journalism should be. Unfortunately, we have reached a point where even many professional journalists show their bias and don't properly check their facts.

  • by Elaine Fogel Mon Aug 2, 2010 via blog

    David, I can't disagree with you. I think it's a matter of integrity of the news outlet. Some are better than others and there are probably less unbiased outlets today than ever before.

    With the print medium getting a huge hit, citizen journalists continue to increase. Some are excellent and others are not. The danger comes from those who have no integrity at all and attempt to sway the public to a particular point of view. Unfortunately, many people are buying into these rants and taking them at their word. That's what we need to worry about. The ensuing quick judgment can cause havoc and damage, as we've witnessed with Sherrod's case.

    Thanks for your comment!

  • by Paul Barsch Mon Aug 2, 2010 via blog

    Hi Elaine, too bad that the shift to free classifieds (Craigslist) and online advertising (now a $33B industry) instead of print ads has decimated the revenue model for most dailies. There's fewer dollars to support a newsroom full of good investigative reporters and of course "fact checkers". So perhaps, we're getting what we pay for?

  • by Elaine Fogel Mon Aug 2, 2010 via blog

    Paul, you're right. Advertising revenue has been the mainstay of both print and broadcast journalism since their inception. And the online medium has changed all that - fairly quickly, too. I think you strike a real chord when you say, "we’re getting what we pay for." That is the whole point. We're typically NOT paying for online content and news, and therein lies the problem with traditional news outlets. They need to figure out a way to generate revenue somehow or we'll see less and less of traditional journalism.

    Thanks for commenting, Paul!

  • by Christine Christman Mon Aug 2, 2010 via blog

    The need is greater than ever for responsible, reliable, trusted professionals to vet the information stream. The media outlets who figure out how to do that will be the winners in the new era of journalism.

  • by Elaine Fogel Mon Aug 2, 2010 via blog

    Christine, I agree 100%. I wonder what that will look like. Can't wait. :) Thanks for your comment!

  • by Rick Grubbs Mon Aug 2, 2010 via blog

    One of my favorite writers, Caharles Madigan, posted a column in the Chicago Tribune last week re this subject. He postulated that, like government, we get the media we deserve. We as consumers of media are lazy and inclined to accept at face value what we read, irrespective of the known (or often unknown) agenda of the writer. Somewhere, someone believes that Shirley Sherrod is a racist because they read it once. We know more about Lindsay Lohan's struggles than we do about pending legislation that will affect us all. And so it goes...

    It is up to US to question, to enlighten, to not accept the face value of ANY reporting, especially that which masquerades as objective journalism but is really editorialism. And to thoroughly reject and excoriate those who would conciously manipulate the facts of a story to make their point.

    Old J-School rule: if your mother says she loves you, check her sources...

  • by Elaine Fogel Mon Aug 2, 2010 via blog

    Very good, Rick! Love the J-School rule. :)

    I agree with you but I worry that our society has been dumbed down so much that we are lost. It's a Catch-22. If we cut back and don't invest in education, we get graduates who can't write well and read at a grade eight level. Therefore, the average citizen will look for the quick and dirty in the news without exploring more and challenging what we are being fed.

    That's why I said, "I’m waiting for the pendulum to complete its swing and return to its central position on the fulcrum."

    Do you think there's hope?

  • by J. Tracy Tue Aug 3, 2010 via blog

    I agree that the practice of journalism has not been passed along to many in the instant-media world. And, that is a shame because it cheapens everyone's view of "journalism". Good journalism is not dead -- it's merely resting. (My apologies to Python fans.)

    In the rush to be the first to break a story (and gain the fame or infamy that goes with it) short cuts are being made in the instant-media niche. So be it. This event should be a wake up call to the new media gang that causes them to start using real journalistic techniques or to continue to suffer embarrassment and mistrust. They must choose a path soon.

    Good journalism will always find a place. Although it seems to be a much smaller place in today's world. It is these journalists that will always be there to embarrass the hell out of those who take the short cuts, forget about checking the facts or simply obtaining different opinions on the day's events. Good journalism is not dead. But it has been taken for granted for so long that many blindly assume all writers in the new media practice it at the same level as those who have been working in print. And, then are surprised when this isn't so.

    OK, I guess this gets back to a simple nugget of wisdom -- you get what you pay for. Want instant news for free ? Buyer beware! Hmmm, perhaps it is time for every writer to have the journalism credentials flashed at the top of every story next to their name so that we can become better news consumers.

  • by Elaine Fogel Tue Aug 3, 2010 via blog

    You may be right, J. Tracy. Online news outlets need to figure out a way to monetize their efforts and then, perhaps, we'll get better quality Internet journalism. On the other hand, one can watch broadcast news for the cost of a TV and electricity, and anyone can read a newspaper in the local coffee shop or library for free if they choose not to subscribe or purchase a copy. In the end, we may still be reliant on advertisers to drive revenue in both models.

    Funny that you mention journalism credentials. There are many laid-off journalists from the print world who are struggling to find their voices online - and unfortunately discovering how poorly compensated the medium is. I hope we don't lose this talent pool.

    Thanks for your comment!

  • by Elaine Fogel Thu Aug 12, 2010 via blog

    Just discovered an online news outlet that operates as a nonprofit! Yes, you heard that right. Staying true to journalistic principles, it operates out of NYC and bills itself as, "Journalism in the public interest."

    The site is clean and easy to navigate. Check it out:

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