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What's "News"


Jeff Jarvis rattles the cages of the Philly Inquirer and asks them bluntly why they're killing the paper by holding "all but breaking news for the paper and even [restricting] bloggers from using their blogs to work on stories in progress."

In a related story, New York Times columnist David Carr says this gem, "I was taught when I was a young reporter that it's news when we say it is. I think that's still true - it's news when 'we' say it is. It's just who 'we' is has changed."

I've argued for a while in the comments of other web sites that the first amendment has nothing to do with journalists or news. "Freedom of the press" is not a protection for a special class of citizen, no more than "freedom of speech" protects specially trained speechers. Neither is about a type of person.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The "press" is equivalent to "speech." The "press" is the written word. "Speech" is the spoken word. That's it.

Here's the crazy thing though: in both of these circumstances, we see that class of people commonly referred to as "the press" engaging in a restriction of speech and press. Journalists can't blog at the Philly Inquirer, and NYT's columnist admits that Edwards' affair, in the minds of journalists, wasn't reported or investigated for a while because "the press" didn't deem it news.

"Journalist," as a viable profession, is dead. What's happened, as Carr mentions, is that anyone can be a journalist, and as "amateur" bloggers show frequently, it can be done much better than the "professional."

"News" is no longer in the hands of a few folks. We each individually determine what makes news for us when we choose our reading and listening material for consumption. The redundant ABC, CBS, and NBC newscasts of decades past are now replaced by an ample variety of sources.

So what's "news?"

News doesn't have to be the person you've never met getting arrested, or the person you've never met getting killed or sick or injured. You've never met that person. Why is that "news" to you? It doesn't impact you in any direct way. Why is it worth the precious moments in your day? But someone somewhere who declared themselves as "the press" decided that it was worth your time and is therefore "news" you need to know.

Sometimes "news" is merely entertainment. It's the original reality TV, but without a plot or recurring characters or some end in sight. It's completely random, and usually has nothing to do with you.

People have started to figure that out and find myriad sources for what is truly "news" to them and started to walk away from the priestly "press" and so newspapers die a little every day.

From where I sit, most of the "news" being reported is deliberately skewed - usually by what's left out of the story. Bias by omission is a huge problem, and the Edwards story is just one example of late. Journalists aren't taught how to see and report in full they're taught to make a difference. To change the world. To give aid to the little guy.

Advocacy is not journalism. When journalism becomes advocacy - and it's that far more often than not - it only appeals to a niche.

People want to be informed. They flock to people who tell them the truth. Rush Limbaugh has made an empire of that - he highlights what's not reported by those in "the press" and people listen to him because they perceive that they're getting a fuller story. (If Democrats ever really figured that out, they could easily put him out of business. But it will never happen.)

Jeff Jarvis anguishes and tries to tell his fellow members of "the press" how to do it better, smarter, more profitably. He has great points, but they only prolong the inevitable death.

News, as defined by journalists today, is toast because it tries to officiate speech. Freedom of the press stopped being that when the press became "The Press." What we're seeing is a healthy correction and a return to freedom, and thankfully, it's costing some people their jobs.


by Brett Rogers, 8/11/2008 9:23:39 AM


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