Sunday, February 17, 2008

Journalism: A New World?

Yesterday, I attended a meeting of the Illinois Woman's Press Association. I am not exactly a press woman (my last newspaper "gig" came during college in the early 1950's), but the group includes writers of all kinds now. The speaker was author and Northwestern University Journalism Professor Michele Weldon, and I was fascinated by her speech, "Adapting to a New World in Journalism."

I'll leave the reviews of Weldon's speech to actual journalists, but her message was appropriate for us older "what's the world coming to?" moaners who sometimes lament the decline of the newspaper as we used to know it. Long gone are the days when we eagerly waited for our morning newspaper to catch up on the news of the day. Now, we've seen and heard that news on TV and/or listened to it on the radio and/or followed it on line, so a newspaper holds few surprises.

Take, for example, the tragic shootings at Northern Illinois University. I happened to turn on my TV that afternoon, just after the event, and I watched all the latest developments. Had I watched updates all night, I would probably have been up-to-date on everything from the body count to the ID of the gunman. That's the kind of immediacy we demand these days.

Still, I read the next day's newspaper. There's something comforting about sitting down with a cup of coffee and the Chicago Tribune. Like other newspapers, it no longer dwells for long on the Who-What-When-Where-Why-How basic facts. Now it's in-depth interviews and public reactions and background stories, and I like that. Of course radio and TV do the same to some extent, but somehow, I prefer a well-developed newspaper story to a series of short sound bites.

I hope that printed newspapers never disappear. We'll always need writers to look beyond the facts and concentrate on the "Why" and the effects of news events on those involved, either directly or indirectly. In her newest book, Everyman News: The Changing American Front Page (U. of Missouri Press, 2007), Michele Weldon discusses how "newspapers have carved out a narrative niche that reflects society's fascination with personal stories and readers' demands for diversity in content."

You gave me a lot to think about, Ms. Weldon. Keep up the good work.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

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