… according to Elowitz. (Will future generations consider him the Edmond Hoyle of new media?)
Ben Elowitz asserts in paidContent.org that “traditional ways of judging ‘quality’ in published content are now useless.” (Read it here.)
His message is more or less the opposite of what I’ve been telling my students at NYU’s Carter Journalism Institute, where I’m now wrapping up a three-year appointment as a visiting professor.
Because the master’s program there lasts three semesters, grad students finish at the end of the calendar year – coinciding in 2008 with massive RIFs at NPR and the New York Times. One of my best and brightest students showed up for our last class sighing, “This is a pretty bleak job market.”
I said, “No, this is way worse than a bad job market. This is a paradigm shift. Those jobs are never coming back.”
Then I delivered a more hopeful message: I thought of myself as a medieval monk whose job it is to keep ancient knowledge alive. That ancient knowledge has to do with things like professional standards, ethics. This was even reflected in the course title: The Medium Formerly Known as Radio. The task of our class was to reinvigorate traditional radio values in the new medium of the Web. My thinking was that someone would figure out how to monetize reporting in its new digital form, journalism would re-professionalize itself, and my students were going to bring about a Renaissance. Sooner rather than later, I hoped.
This wasn’t just a lame attempt to rub a salve over the deep gash they were feeling. After all, they and their families had just dumped untold tens of thousands of dollars on a degree that had almost no hope of landing them a job in their chosen field. Perhaps ever.
The belief underlying my pep talk was that there would always be an audience for vital information gathered and presented with impartiality and craftsmanship. Elowitz argues just the opposite.
Of course, I’m strongest in recounting the past over predicting the future, which is why I became a journalist rather than a fortune teller.
I’m reminded of the standard reply sent to readers who had written letters to the New Yorker magazine in its early days: “Dear Sir. You may be right. Sincerely, Wolcott Gibbs.”