Sunday, May 12, 2013

Journalism's continuous flux of change should be expected and will favour the fittest

David Dunkley Gyimah teaching at the Chcago SunTimes, in Chcago 

When you’re own nothing something is everything.  

The assumption, perhaps some of us make, is journalism owes us something or society. That somehow we elect our journalists in an attempt to see democracy work, in the way we elect politicians.

That the right to practise somehow is beyond reproach, once you have deep pockets or a benefactor to build that institution. But history tells us journalism has a continuous streak of turmoil.  

Today's 140 characters would have been as painful to newspapers as the threat of Television in the 1950s. Our pain is just being expressed here and now. Picture Post, a highly respectable photo mag lost the bulk of its journos to this new medium.

Burgeoning communication theory from the 1920s with the heat of industrialisation gave journalism recognition and some stability. There was the them (citizens) and us (journos), the few who could afford the license against the many who couldn't. The theories and practices that underpinned it. The business of journalism took hold.

Yet share a thought for those who also wanted their voices heard, but couldn't. There were just so many outlets where you could practise the craft, while others clamoured against the walls.

Struggling to find work in the UK in the 90s (all sorts of reasons), though I have had a fairly successful career with the BBC, Channel 4 News and a stint with ABC News in S.A, I tempered my frustration with the following:  "the media doesn't owe me a job, though I’d really like one".

Today, many more of us are realising that.  But history also tells us of the ingenuity of those scribes and image makers continually attempting to safeguard their livelihood, as well as push boundaries. Daniel Defoe's attempt to practise a new sort of journalism 300 years ago was derided by many at the time. Defoe, to make a living and extend his creativity also became an author, a tradition not uncommon today.

In effect, journalism is experiencing its own market correction. Did it have it so good that making money became the motive for some proprietors? That's another debate. But the soul searching we're undertaking, necessitated by the Net and digital may well be welcomed in years to come.

Because if the science or art of info gathering and dissemination is about holding the powerful (how did they get there?) to account; or making society work better because we're better informed, though, yes, knowing is not the same as doing. Then there's a strong case to be made that we're not doing so well.

Politicians have learned to run rings around journalists. We need more training in the zen of the new media. PR has become JR (journalism release) and soft news can't often tell the difference between primary requisite news, e.g. there's going to be bad weather ahead and it's down to global warming patterns, versus there's going to be bad weather ahead so wear your grey scarf it'll match the sky.

So if somewhere in this chaos a new journalism emerges, different to its antecedents, because now the pros, prosumer and citizen-journos have to try harder, well that can't be a bad thing, and by the way I don't believe in utopia either.

David Dunkley Gyimah is a former Knight Batten Winner for Innovation in Journalism for He is an educator, videojournalist and is completing his PhD examining a unique aspect of news and videojournalism.