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Introduction

For some Americans, journalism once served the public, providing citizens with the information they needed to self-govern in a democracy. But now, the journalism of America’s past has been decimated by economic and technological challenges.

The digital revolution has caused tremendous dislocation. New business models and new platforms have destroyed the print-advertising revenue that supported the practice of journalism in the past. The total workforce of journalists working in legacy and digital newsrooms fell by 40 percent in the last decade, according to the American Society of News Editors’ Newsroom Employment Census.

Meanwhile, the failure of news coverage and news staffing to represent the full diversity of thought, class, race, religion and identity has apparently made the product irrelevant to large swaths of the U.S. population.

The news organizations that publish journalism content have fallen subordinate to the distribution platforms of Facebook and Google.

And finally, there is the problem of boredom. Often, news publications are perceived as just a waste of people’s time.

And yet, the need for news and information tools for a citizen to participate in a democracy remains vitally important.

This is the fundamental question: How do we sustain the journalism needed for democracy given the business model erosion and seismic shifts in the technology landscape?

The Aspen Institute Dialogue on the Future of Journalism explored several of these technological forces while re-examining journalism values in August 2016.

“We’ve all grown up with journalism as it relates to democracy: helping people with their daily lives, helping people achieve their dreams,” said Charlie Firestone, Executive Director of the Communications and Society Program at the Aspen Institute. “But, we’re now seeing a number of challenges to those traditional values and functions.”

The goal of the Dialogue was to serve as a catalyst for action. Since that dialogue, a presidential election has exposed deep divisions in America. More pertinent, people questioned the balance of coverage in the media — e.g., whether broadcast news networks may have provided free coverage to political candidates. Additionally, the dissemination of fake news via Facebook and Twitter may have influenced a small percentage of voters while algorithmic filtering of feeds by social media platforms may have created a false sense of unanimity among the electorate on both sides.

As Jeff Jarvis, professor at the City University of New York Tow Center for Journalism said, “If the birth of the Internet was the invention of the Gutenberg printing press, it’s only 1480. Journalists need to rethink the core proposition to the customer.”

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