My daughter, bless her, is an extremely intelligent and talented young lady who will be taking off this fall to the wilds of Ohio to attend a large university there. I am very, very proud of her. She will be studying journalism. From the “adults” she interacts with, who never fail to ask her what she will be studying, this draws some now-predictable utterances of “ohhh…!” and furrowed brows, and the occasional snarky comment about the supposedly dwindling number of jobs in the field. My daughter, to her great credit, ignores these supposed experts. As a member of the generation which the naysayers perceive as having destroyed journalism utterly as a career, she is well aware that there is nothing magical about a smartphone in the hands of a teenager that obviates the need for news forevermore. A field of study that is in active transition is not a field that is in extinction, and if those who lack the imagination to understand the difference happen to be a majority – as my daughter is getting somewhat annoyed to find out – that doesn’t change the reality that in a real sense, an adventure awaits.
However, I must admit that I’m still scared about her choice of career, for an entirely different reason. Jay Rosen’s excellent blog PressThink ran with the reason recently: after his Tumblr post on the newsworthiness, or lack thereof, of what was being shown on CNN, he got essentially laughed out of the blogs by multiple writers for even suggesting that, perhaps, the tabloid spectacle of the Zimmerman trial may wish to take a back seat to, oh, I dunno…an active military coup happening in Egypt. Rosen quite rightly decided after that to simply say to hell with CNN.
CNN’s been a joke for quite a while, of course, and sometimes not a funny one. And part of it has to do with the format – if you are on the air for content 24 hours a day, all the time…then what you are doing is not “news”, pretty much by definition. Cue Theodore Sturgeon.
But I’m much more concerned with the vast unwashed who would rather watch obsessive, inside-the-nostril coverage of a murder trial than an active coup – or, for that matter, a plane crash which kills two people but which happens inside the country, as opposed to a train full of oil detonating in the center of an admittedly non-American town, from which fifteen people are dead and 50 still missing – at the far-flung distance of five miles outside the U.S. border. Make no mistake, as the Time magazine covers show, this seems to be a 100% ‘Murrican phenomenon, and such things are decided by American elites such as Jack Shafer, whose Reuters column prompted not only Jay Rosen’s surrender note, but a fantastic need for a shower on my part. (And if you can read it without a similar urge, congratulations – you are part of the problem.) Next up in The Situation Room: Kate Upton will be on to moan the news in a g-string. Hey, it’s ratings, kids!
As I mentioned, despite all of this, there is a real adventure in the future of journalism now, and additionally I am trying mightily to restrain myself from controlling my daughter’s future professional life. I am at the point with both of my daughters when I must pray that what I have given them – and all of the intelligence and drive and beauty inside them for which I can take no credit – is enough. So hope does spring eternal, and I am very hopeful that she will be able to choose her path in telling the news, even – especially – if she chooses to defy the Jack Shafers of the business and “meddle with the primal forces of nature”.