Who, What, Where, When and Now: Newspapers and Higher Education

Whether newspapers are on the brink of extinction, or simply evolving, the question of where that leaves the "public" (and whether the complicated separation between that public and the news that reports on and for it still exists), and where that leaves traditional journalism continues to fascinate, trouble, and perplex scholars.

The Chronicle of Higher Education posed the question of how the perceived decline of mass media will affect higher education to those invested in the issues. Some interesting responses and theories emerged.

Harvard's Harry R. Lewis proposed that journalism supports the research of the academy, breaking down often hard-to-understand industry jargon into language easily digested by outsiders. Good and informed journalism must therefore be preserved and fought for.

Columbia's Mark C. Taylor argues a similar point: "Fair, accurate, and responsible in-depth journalism is essential for any democratic society, and never more so than today. ... We also need to develop institutional structures that support dialogue between the academic world and the broader society."

In terms of how such a fracturing of news media affects university students, these scholars also had much to say, arguing for a more inclusive role for technology in the classroom, for upholding the idea of objectivity and journalism's role in recording history, for turning out graduates who can think critically and reflectively.

Garrick Utley of the State University of New York brings up another interesting point, what he terms "the past-tense, present-tense tension":
Journalism is by definition and practice past tense. Stories in print or on television newscasts have been reported, facts checked, scripts and articles written, edited, and vetted, and only then presented to the public; the journalistic version of peer review.

Today, news is increasingly present tense. Cable news channels have become primarily live talk and live coverage of breaking-news events. There are ever fewer traditional newscasts or edited news reports. Television news is becoming real-time reality television. And Internet news, with ever more (and more narrowly focused) Web sites, blogs, and live streams of events, is also becoming real time, or present tense. Social-network sites are nearly real time and some, such as Twitter, are present tense.

Academic life, like journalism (at its best), is largely built on past tense, through the accumulation of knowledge and the importance of context, not to mention tradition. Academe and journalism share certain traits. Whether they face a similar future remains to be seen.
It almost seems that it is this focus on the past that is keeping newspapers (and academia probably) from evolving in such a way that leaves behind the problems that have plagued them, and from moving forward into a digital age that is inhabited by people no longer passively taking in carefully molded information. That this comes with its own challenges is clear, but it also floods the once deafening silence with new voices.

Read the Chronicle's article here.
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1 comment:

  1. I saw a newspaper delivery guy today and I was thinking about how great of a job it must be (walking through the streets, delivering papers) and then sadly I thought about how the job won't last much longer. It seems so strange that higher education, a leader in so many ways, is so behind when it comes to technology.


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