Is journalism dead? I will not be reduced to Twittering for attention

By Dan Delmar on March 19, 2009

Journalists, writers are insecure manic-depressives on a never-ending quest for praise – in the best of times. In a recession, they are still those things, but also hyper-aware of a new reality; no matter how much they are loved and admired, the advertising revenue is simply not paying the bills these days. Journalism was on life-support long before the economy tanked. Now, one has to wonder if the printed word can survive, let alone thrive in new economic and social contexts.

Journalists have become highly expendable in times of crisis (excluding this journalist, naturally). Information, opinion, analysis and free thought in general have become luxuries, not necessities in a healthy democracy. With the demise of newspapers all across North America, the timing is ideal for corporate crooks and the governments they bed to take advantage of this collective state of confusion and fear. To paraphrase Naomi Klein’s “Shock Doctrine,” we all need to be more vigilant during hard times, lest we be taken advantage of by more powerful forces. 

Proletariat rage was once the fuel that kept journalism alive and kicking, even in the worst of times. Sadly, the masses are too busy surviving to be conscious of the pesky inner workings of democracy. Instead, we’ve created a new form of news that is neither relevant nor informative. We Facebook our feelings, Twitter our thoughts and YouTube our quirky pets (Incidentally, is one who Twitters considered a ‘Twit?’). Who cares if the Conservative government is spending $3-billion on who-the-fuck-knows, or that AIG executives are using taxpayers’ bailout money to give themselves bonuses for a job…done. None of this matters to me today, because through Facebook, I’ve learned that “Juliana is psyched about her tax return,” that “Alyssa is sick, and that must mean the semester is nearing its end,” and that Erin is…“I can’t take it any longer, thought that we were stronger, all we do is linger, slipping through my fingers,” – whatever the hell that means.

Consider this to be one journalist’s stand against this form of egocentric, antisocial networking that serves only to celebritize the most irrelevant among us, while steering our attention away from matters of actual substance. I will not blog this rant. I won’t post it as a note on Facebook. I won’t videotape myself spewing this venom for the amusement of bored data entry clerks browsing YouTube. And I will certainly not be reduced to Twittering for attention. I am, after all, a proud (and sometimes stubborn) journalist, with an undying love for a once-noble profession.

There is legitimacy that comes with having your name and views in black and white; a seal of approval from men wiser than I who have decided that my voice ought to be heard. Are those who contribute to The Métropolitain latte-sipping elitists, in that respect? Most, indeed, are. Who could be more qualified to hold the elitists who run the country accountable than the elitists who secretly would love to run the country, if given the opportunity? However, the voices of my most beloved journalist colleagues are frequently lost in the Internet ether, only to be ignored in favour of videos of water-skiing squirrels.

And therein lies the problem: Instant gratification. If this piece were solely available for consumption online, I suspect many readers would have lost interest after, “a never-ending quest for praise.” In print form, however, these same words have greater meaning. It’s an acknowledgement that our (kind and loyal) sponsors believe in this endeavour enough to continue to write the publisher cheques in the midst of a recession, to cover the cost of the tiny rainforest we must destroy every other week. Unfortunately, we’re not all so lucky.

The closure of The Monitor’s print operations last month and the possible bankruptcy of CanWest, parent company to The Gazette, are highlighting just how dire the state of affairs are for newspapers in Canada. The Monitor had been serving NDG since 1926. That news source is now, of course, available only on the Internet, competing with the squirrel (who, by the way, received half a million hits). Filling the print news gap in the area is a tabloid called Le Citoyen, published by the borough’s public relations office. It features masturbatory articles and photos, complete with uplifting headlines like, “Côte-des-Neiges wins it’s (sic) bet.” If journalism is in danger, publicly-funded PR certainly is not.

It’s not simply a question of the average citizen needing to be more interested. Journalists themselves need to be more interesting. There is an explanation beyond all that is economic as to why the interchangeable press-release editors, information forwarders and glorified stenographers find themselves in danger, or out of a job altogether: They are dull. Reviving this great profession is not simply a matter of scolding the public until they submit; it’s taking on the squirrel and winning. Until journalists learn to adapt to this new reality, we will all collectively remain as irrelevant as the average Twit.


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