Thursday, May 21, 2009

Todd Gitlin on Journalism in Crisis

Todd Gitlin's Keynote presentation at the Journalism in Crisis conference being held by the University of Westminster can be found here.

It is called "A Surfeit of Crises: Circulation, Revenue, Attention, Authority, and Deference" and it is a rollicking read.

A section can be found below:

The word “crisis” is overused, as is its anodyne opposite, “problem,” or its cousin, “issue.” (As in the highly flexible, “I have issues.”) Ordinary troubles become inflated into “crises” because crises sound somehow more dignified or electrifying. A problem sounds possibly serious, if hypothetically soluble, but a crisis sounds, well, critical. Yet the overuse might lead us to bend over backwards and fall into euphemism—calling a grave matter “a little difficult,” for example, as is common, for some reason, in American discourse today. There are crises. History proceeds by convulsions, not only increments—or rather, increments build up into crises, and before one knows it, the landscape has changed, one is living in a different world, and the world before it changed is barely conceivable and certainly unrecoverable. It was a foreign country; they did things differently there.

In the case of the murky future of journalism, it is fair to speak of crisis—crises, actually. The landscape has changed, is changing, will change—radically. You must know the parable of the boy who cried “wolf.” Just because the overanxious boy kept thinking the wolf was at the door, and sounding a warning to which others became accustomed, and therefore ignored, did not mean that the wolf was not nearby. When the real wolf showed up, no one was ready.

I shall speak primarily of American journalism because it is what I know best, and leave it to you to judge how much this case is typical. Four wolves have arrived at the door simultaneously while a fifth has already been lurking for some time. One is the precipitous decline in the circulation of newspapers. The second is the decline in advertising revenue, which, combined with the first, has badly damaged the profitability of newspapers. The third, contributing to the first, is the diffusion of attention. The fourth is the more elusive crisis of authority. The fifth, a perennial—so much so as to be perhaps a condition more than a crisis—is journalism’s inability or unwillingness to penetrate the veil of obfuscation behind which power conducts its risky business.

For more read here.

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