The end of journalism as we know it

Apparently, young journalists are insane

In a time when the future of journalism is anything but certain, it strikes me as odd how many people actually want to get involved in journalism. We generally have two or more new contributors join The Uniter each week. Although many join just for the novelty of seeing their name in print, many still walk into our poorly ventilated basement office in hopes of changing the world.

Eleven Uniter staff and contributors recently returned from the annual Canadian University Press conference, which brings student journalists together from across the country. This year, it was held in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

The title of this year’s CUP conference was Upgrade. It focused on the future of journalism and the integration of new media.

With news readily available as it happens, newspapers – especially dailies – struggle to remain relevant and to provide new information in paper editions.

Journalists are expected to file news online as it happens, but also to save some segment of a story for the print edition so that people will continue to purchase their daily subscriptions.

The Uniter and some other weeklies are in a good position insomuch as we can provide insight into issues. Although we can sometimes break stories, we don’t generally provide coverage of the news as it happens. However, we have the time and manpower – thanks in part to students who are hungry and willing to search out the “truth” for whatever the reason – to investigate the issues we deem important. Thanks to funding provided to The Uniter by University of Winnipeg students in the form of levies, we don’t have to worry about appeasing advertisers – another freedom many private publishers don’t have.

I often struggle with how to efficiently integrate new media into The Uniter. It seems that everyone and their dog has a blog. Having said that, many blogs are mind-numbingly boring.

Winnipeg has an interesting local blogging community. These bloggers provide alternative ideas and to some degree hold the mainstream media accountable. Many of these bloggers do their work in their spare time – they are passionate and committed, just like The Uniter’s writers.

At the CUP conference, many people spoke about the time commitment that blogging requires. The great thing about blogs is that they can create communities, but for that to happen, they must be constantly monitored. Locally, discussions often pop up just a few hours after a new blog post is made, and the blogger is frequently involved, clarifying or defending their views.

It’s fantastic that these people have the time to devote to their blogs, and all papers must move in this direction with the goal of developing and maintaining a similar online community.

But people must also realize that journalists are both trained and skilled at what they do. Unlike some bloggers, journalists understand who is a reliable source and journalists form relationships with sources in order to glean information that might otherwise not come to light.

If journalists are to continue to play the vital role in society that they have until now – as both upholders of democracy and as record keepers – they can’t also be expected to file stories throughout the day. When this is the case, accidents are more likely to happen.

Ideally, stories should break online immediately, then daily, weekly and monthly publications can analyze that information for readers, and finally a blog discussion can ensue where further information is brought to light and readers can express their opinions. But who is to say that this will work?

The Uniter will continue to examine issues that affect our community, and our new website and blogs (launched at the end of January) will help to facilitate the discussion. Thanks to committed students willing to work for little or nothing, we have the ability to do this.

But what happens when we actually need to support ourselves and make a living as journalists? Good question – no one really knows right now.

Published in Volume 63, Number 16 of The Uniter (January 15, 2009)

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