Confidence Game

Dean Starkman, Columbia Journalism Review, Dec 03, 2011
Commentary by Stephen Downes

Dean Starkman writes a longish essay in the Columbia Journalism Review, no doubt intending to emulate the form he decries as lost in modern online journalism. His argument is that the premise of citizen journalism, of readers as reporters, of distributed news networks, is inherently flawed, as it does not preserve the place of the reporter as expert and as public servant. "You can call it the Ida Tarbell problem, or you can call it the Nick Davies problem. The problem is that journalism’s true value-creating work, the keystone of American journalism, the principle around which it is organized, is public-interest reporting; the kind that is usually expensive, risky, stressful, and time-consuming." And if the present system did any of this in any great quantity, it would be worth preserving. But in fact, journalism, in its present form, is less about making waves and more about sending professionals to cover dogs catching frisbees. As Clay Shirky says, in his response, "many of those institutions are so mismatched to the task at hand that most of them face a choice, at best, between radical restructure and outright collapse." We face, as a society, the choice between the outright collapse of old institutions serving the public good, and finding ways to preserve their value. "When you see a metro daily for a town of 100,000 that employs only six such reporters (just 10% of the masthead, much less total staff), saving the entire edifice just to support that handful looks a lot harder than just finding new ways to support them directly. "
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