Is journalism now shortsighted and selfish?

Here’s food for thought from Robert J. Samuelson, whose essay on Newsweek tackles the question of why journalism is becoming “increasingly shortsighted, unreasoned and selfish.”

As someone who was a journalist for over a decade, I can certainly identify with the idealism of trying to change the world by uncovering the truth, only to come face to face with the reality that things are a lot more complicated.

Here’s an excerpt from Samuelson’s essay.

This was a common conceit among journalists of my generation. We would reveal what was hidden, muddled or distorted. The truth would set everyone free. It sustained good government. We were democracy’s watchdogs and clarifiers. One thing I learned is that these satisfying ideas are at best simplifications–and at worst illusions. Truth comes in infinite varieties; every story can have many narratives. There are always new facts, and sometimes today’s indisputable fact qualifies or rebuts yesterday’s.

I started with the naive notion that, by exposing and explaining how the world worked, I would in some small way contribute to better government and a saner society. What I discovered firsthand is what I already knew intuitively: Democracy is a messy, often shortsighted, unreasoned and selfish process. People have interests, beliefs and prejudices that, once firmly entrenched, are not easily dislodged–and certainly not by logic or evidence.

As for me, I believe in fighting for our ideals–no matter what reality might be.

Of journalism and abolishing ‘citizen journalists’

Check out my latest CNET Asia blog post.

Here’s an excerpt.

The editorial Let’s Abolish ‘Citizen Journalists’ on The Digital Journalist caught my attention, thanks to a tweet from @gangbadoy retweeting the link from @glossmania.

While I don’t agree with the article entirely, it does raise good points on the need to vet stories posted and spread through social networks, and the kind of dedication and courage it takes for journalists to actually cover news events.

Read the full story.

Gawker: Cause of death determined for print media

Here’s an excerpt from an op-ed piece in Gawker from NYU adjunct professor Clay Shirky, who originally posted it on his blog as Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable.

Revolutions create a curious inversion of perception. In ordinary times, people who do no more than describe the world around them are seen as pragmatists, while those who imagine fabulous alternative futures are viewed as radicals. The last couple of decades haven’t been ordinary, however. Inside the papers, the pragmatists were the ones simply pointing out that the real world was looking increasingly like the unthinkable scenario. These people were treated as if they were barking mad. Meanwhile the people spinning visions of popular walled gardens and enthusiastic micropayment adoption, visions unsupported by reality, were regarded not as charlatans but saviors.

When reality is labeled unthinkable, it creates a kind of sickness in an industry. Leadership becomes faith-based, while employees who have the temerity to suggest that what seems to be happening is in fact happening are herded into Innovation Departments, where they can be ignored en masse. This shunting aside of the realists in favor of the fabulists has different effects on different industries at different times. One of the effects on the newspapers is that many of its most passionate defenders are unable, even now, to plan for a world in which the industry they knew is visibly going away.

If you’re interested, you can also check out a column I wrote in 2006 for what was then, Wake up and smell the coffee, Dead Tree People.

Here’s an excerpt from that column piece, which I wrote when I was still a journalist.

What newspapers have to remember is that they’re not in the business of selling paper, but of generating news. The sad truth is that the price of paper is skyrocketing, and the business model for printing means that newspapers allot pages to content depending on the number of advertisers subsidizing the cost of that section.

The funny thing is that for all the lip service newspapers pay to convergence and the impact of technology, they have been very inadequate in supporting niche sections such as Infotech. Just check out the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Infotech print section that comes out every Monday, or what I jokingly refer to as the ObITuary section, for an example of how much space an important news topic warrants in broadsheets if there’s no advertising support. I’m not singling out the Inquirer, but it so happens that the Inquirer is one of’s mother companies and I used to be a PDI Infotech reporter, so I know what I’m talking about and this way I’m not citing a competitor’s section as an example.