Saturday, May 01, 2010


Do real reporters tweet??

Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters' Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all —Wikipedia, referencing Edmund Burke, 1787

by Larry Geller

In reaction to the layoff by ABC of hundreds of professional journalists this week, the Berkeley Blog lamented today:

…Unfortunately corporations are all too willing to exploit the folks who are trying to find a way to save the journalism industry. Shame on them. [Berkeley Blog, The New Scabs: Digital Journalists, 5/1/2010]

ABC will be working, the article says, with folks who take digital pics and tweet.

Tweet? Is that what journalism has come to today? They have to tweet!

I often succumb to nostalgia when I read articles such as this. Yes, journalism has gone digital. The old way has gone to buggy whip heaven (when you get there, you’ll find carburetors you can repair yourself, telephones that were black and ugly but would actually work, and rice cookers that don’t have dual core processors and fuzzy logic chips).

Times have definitely changed in the journalism biz. It’s hardly recognizable from the days I remember back at the foreign correspondents club in Japan (we were associate members). There, a day’s work was done only when the Remington typewriter was pushed up on its back at the center of the table to make table space to proofread the article before faxing it off to the home office. I wish I had a picture of that long table, with its row of upended typewriters running down the center. You sat down and pulled one forward toward you to write up the story. If the ribbon was worn out, you stole a still usable one from someone’s stash. When done, you raised the keyboard up and the thing stood on its back. It was made to do that, there were legs there.

And the sound of the wire service teletypes. Quiet until some news came clacking in. Imagine that tweets are coming into your cellphone, if you can’t conjure up a teletype. Someone would wander over to it and if the news were significant, rip it off and let everyone know what had happened. The machine gave off a telltale oily smell when it ran, adding an olfactory aspect to breaking news.

The Pravda correspondent was probably a KGB spy, at least he never denied it. And he certainly wouldn’t tweet. No one there would tweet. They were the cream of the crop, if underpaid, and they would never tweet. (oops, I think T.R. Reid, who was the Washington Post’s bureau chief in Tokyo, does now tweet…).

A digital journalist probably doesn't accrue vacation time, sick leave, or a pension. A digital journalist probably works on a contract basis and like many of the freelance journalists I know who once worked for a news organization, they write for several media rather than just one.

I wonder whether graduate schools of journalism now produce journalists or digital journalists. And can someone go from being a journalist to being a digital journalist, or does the journalist have to downgrade his or her reporting and communications skills first?

These are questions that will face journalists in Honolulu starting next week as the sale of the Advertiser goes through and firings loom.

The consolidation will bring not only unemployment to professionals with real, tangible and valuable skills, but will force many to do that painful downgrade.

That’s not the way it was supposed to go. That’s not the way our democracy needs it to go.

We have an oversupply of bloggers and a corporate disrespect for professional journalists. That’s what the corporations want, you see. Eliminate the newspapers, degrade television news further (if that’s possible), and silence any credible critical voices.

There needs to be a redress in this someplace. Even if we have to nail news sheets up on the walls, we should not allow journalism to be degraded or downgraded. It needs to claw its way back somehow.

Will the average person, entertained by big media and talk radio, fixated on video games and fueled by sugary drinks and cheap pizza, rise up to defend the importance of a free, independent and vibrant Fourth Estate?

I’m not very hopeful this week.


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