The future of journalism by G. Stuart Adam

This text, written by Carleton University’s advanced print professor G. Stuart Adam, sparked some lively discussion in a recent class. (It was originally written as an email for an American student, but was shared with our group as well).
Some points raised during our class discussion: the tricky distinction between “journalism” and “media”; the future of freelancers; the economy of the Internet; and the importance of “brain work”.

Let us know what you think. Here we present to you,

“Thoughts conveyed to a student wondering about the future of journalism.  08.12.11”.

1.    I suggest that in order to reflect on the future – and to encourage a more sanguine view of the situation – that you distinguish between journalism as a cultural practice, on the one hand, and media, on the other.  The term ‘media’ blends (and blurs) concepts of culture and technology. When used as a synonym for journalism, the term media pushes technology into the foreground and conceals the fact that journalism is one thing and media are another. The latter refers mainly to technologies and systems of various effects and uses. The former refers to a form of expression or brain work that includes making news judgments, gathering evidence, constructing narratives, and making sense of things.  It is a method of capturing and representing the world of events and ideas as they occur.  While there is no doubt that the journalistic method developed in newspapers, that it established itself later in the broadcast media and that it is media-dependent, it is nevertheless a distinctive form of expression on which modern democratic societies depend.  Now it is surfacing in the Internet. So the future of journalism, while dependent on media, is not wholly dependent on newspapers.

2.    The impulse to engage in journalism is as much political as it is economic.  I believe what the late James Carey said – namely, that journalism is one of the ways in which a democratic nation engages in a conversation with itself.  I believe that Americans will continue to respond to their past and the democratic culture it inspires.  I think Americans will figure out a way to continue a democratic conversation and that journalism will figure prominently in it.

3.    I can’t say much about the economics or marketing of new media.  I am a student of the craft, not strictly speaking of media, of economics, or of complex organizations. In the meantime, I believe that the newspaper industry will shrink but that it will survive. I think on-line publishing will expand and then consolidate. 

4.    I say to student journalists that if you want to write for a living and if public life excites you, then stick to it.  In the meantime, there will always be a demand, although possibly not as much, for people who can report, think, and write quickly and coherently.

Good luck,

G. Stuart Adam, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus
School of Journalism and Communication
Carleton University, Ottawa, ON K1S 5B6