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Words From Charlie - Foreword to Dialogue on the Future of Journalism

When the Dialogue on the Future of Journalism convened in August 2016, the original agenda focused on an industry deeply transformed by disruptive technologies and economic challenges. The profession, at the time, seemed to have turned a corner. Participants discussed a range of issues from “how newsrooms could lead the development and adoption of essential technologies” to understanding “the changing operations of journalism in the age of networks” to highlighting rising stars in new media.

The report on The Future of Journalism, written by Sharon Pian Chan, captures a wide range of perspectives from conference participants, which included media experts, academics, journalists and publishers. From the promises of virtual reality to the challenges of multi-platform distribution channels to the failures of staffing a diverse, representative newsroom, the conversations honed in on a call for action. Journalism was ready to re-emerge.

The issues and challenges raised during the summer conference were prophetic. The results from the 2016 U.S. presidential election not only exposed divisions in America, but it also shed light on a much deeper set of challenges for journalism. Today, the discourse calls into question issues of trust, objectivity and the role of journalism in a democracy. How readers produce, consume and engage with information needs to be reassessed. The stories of the under-represented or under-reported can no longer be overlooked. Though not alone in this problem, the profession and industry of journalism must confront its fading reliability among Americans.

As the report presents, the symptoms for journalism’s further decline have long been present. Yet, now, there is a new sense of urgency to re-establish journalism as a necessary component to a good society. This report is a synthesis of the Dialogue as well as events post-conference, which offers both cautionary tales and prescriptive action. While much remains unknown about the future of journalism, the report’s recommendations can serve as a necessary starting point.

On behalf of the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program, I want to thank the Center for Investigative Reporting for its generous support in developing this roundtable. Thanks, also, to Sharon Pian Chan, our rapporteur, for capturing the various, nuanced discussions into this report, and then having to contend with the tectonic shifts occurring afterwards. As is typical for our roundtables, this report is the rapporteur’s distillation of the dialogue. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of each participant at the meeting, or their employer. Finally, I want to thank Jennarose Placitella and Kristine Gloria, Project Managers, and Tricia Kelly, Managing Director, for their work on the conference and bringing this report to fruition.

Charles M. Firestone
Executive Director
Communications & Society Program
The Aspen Institute
May 2017

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