First Person: Marc Rosenweig

Is Journalism Dying?

Photo: Mike Peters

Marc Rosenweig

Is journalism dying? That’s a question I’m asked frequently—by students, faculty, and media professionals. Despite what some people think, it’s not dying. But it is changing rapidly.

One of the changes—and a major one at that—is the decline in investigative reporting. Some of the big media companies are no longer willing or able to fund investigative reporting. How will big business, politicians, and others be held accountable if their activities aren’t scrutinized?

This lack of commitment to investigative reporting by many mainstream news organizations has left a void that is being filled by other media outlets. For example, although it did not receive the award, The National Enquirer was reportedly considered for a Pulitzer Prize this year for breaking the story on John Edwards’ infidelities.

Representatives of several philanthropic organizations concerned about the decrease in investigative reporting decided to take action and funded Pro Publica, which they describe as “an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces journalism in the public interest.” Pro Publica supported an investigation examining the controversial actions of the medical staff at a New Orleans hospital during Hurricane Katrina. After more than two years of work, it was co-published by the New York Times. This investigation recently won a Pulitzer Prize.

Print media is not the only area being affected by the decrease in investigative reporting. The same pinch is being felt in the world of broadcast news. Recently, during separate visits to a class at Montclair State, television investigative producers from 20/20 and Inside Edition said they’re lucky that their news organizations still maintain commitments to investigative reporting. But it has changed for them also.

“I now have to shoot and edit a lot of my own video,” the 20/20 producer told the students. And the Inside Edition producer said, “The stories I produce are shorter than they used to be and I’m not given as much time to produce the stories since the company wants to hold the cost down. I’m just thankful there’s still a commitment to investigations.”

Another important change in journalism is the rise of the Internet. The Internet has changed the way news is covered and who is considered to be a journalist. It should be no surprise that the first report of the death of Michael Jackson wasn’t from a traditional news source such as the Los Angeles Times or CNN. It was first reported by TMZ.com, which is largely known for running paparazzi footage of celebrities.

Much of the information and “news” on the Internet comes from bloggers, so-called “citizen journalists,” many of whom sit at home churning out reports for their blogs. How much of the reporting is accurate? How can we tell what’s real?

One of my students recently called these bloggers “amateur journalists.” I told him, “There’s no such thing as an ‘amateur journalist.’ You’re either a journalist with the proper standards or you’re not.”

The point of this discussion is that with all the platforms for information distribution we now have, the quality, depth, and reliability of journalism matters more than ever. Students need to prepare themselves to deliver top quality, compelling information on all these platforms.

That’s why work is underway to eventually create a School of Media Arts and Communication within the College of the Arts at Montclair State. Preliminary plans include the creation of an electronic newsroom where students can develop their communication skills. The goal is to bring the student newspaper, The Montclarion, and WMSC radio into the electronic newsroom with television production and Internet content creation. To start this process, The Montclarion has already relaunched its Web site with streaming video and blogs (www.themontclarion.org). This will prepare students for the Twitter and Facebook communication world of the present and future.

So journalism is not dying on or off campus, but it is changing dramatically. There will be opportunities for today’s students in the communication field if they can write, report, research, and deliver their information on multiple platforms.

The key is preparation and flexibility. Journalism won’t die if our next generation is prepared and adjusts to the changes.

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Marc Rosenweig is an assistant professor of broadcasting at Montclair State and also faculty advisor for The Montclarion. He joined Montclair State in 2007 after more than 30 years in television journalism and programming. He was senior vice president of programming for the launch of the YES Network for the New York Yankees and held similar positions at King World Productions and CNBC.