Woman reading The New York Times newspaper

There was an interesting piece earlier this week on NPR about Page One, a new documentary chronicling a year inside the New York Times and the changing face of investigative journalism. Filmmaker Andrew Rossi spent most of 2009 shadowing journalists inside the Times, capturing their pursuit of quality journalism as they faced dwindling resources and the rise of social media. The documentary captures the ongoing battle between the old media and the new, and raises some interesting thoughts and statistics.

For example, New York Times journalist, David Carr, says that over the last five to seven years, the number of journalists employed by newspapers has declined by over 50 percent.  He talks about several losses to the newspaper world, where dailies have either died completely – such as Rocky Mountain News or gone online only – like the Detroit News.

Included in the NPR discussion was how the dwindling number of journalists at newspapers generally, be they national or regional, is affecting the quality and breadth of news that is available to the public. One argument is that you can find whatever information you care to search for online so there is no resulting void if journalism dwindles or even dies. But another view is that, given it is so easy to publish information (and disinformation), if people start seeking out information from niche blogs on WordPress and other online sources, the chances are the information they are reading (and believing) is going to be preloaded with opinion or bias. That is one dangerous road when people, especially in the U.S., often already have very limited access to independent factual information about what is happening in the World.

The BBC is one shining example of how important independent and unbiased sources of news are. People can retweet and spin stories to their heart’s content but there is at least one point of reference where simply the facts are published. The business model here is of course contentious because the BBC is funded through a TV License – which costs every household in the UK around $160 per year.

Another more recent source of investigative journalism is ProPublica. Established and run by some heavyweight journos from WSJ and NYT, ProPublica describes itself as an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest. It is funded through donations and has a multi-year commitment from The Sandler Foundation.

The conclusion of the NPR piece, in summary, was that without the existence of robust and far reaching independent fact-only sources of information, social media channels, whether Twitter or Facebook, are really just ‘tools of the insurgency feeding the news’.  The future of journalism is some sort of hybrid model where serendipity is not lost because there remains a healthy independent representation of what is happening in the world, but the eye witness reports and on the ground real-time coverage and reporting that has been such a feature of the recent Arab uprisings, provide an invaluable new dimension to the a reporter’s information arsenal.


This post was first published by Martin Jones on March Communications’ blog, PR Nonsense, and may be viewed here.