More comments on the lecture, this time from Gregory Piechota, the prolific speaker and commentator who is also in charge of special projects at the Warsaw daily Gazeta Wyborcza. Greg thought that my definition of the core tasks of journalism needed an addition:
1) I agree de Tocqueville was right about a social role of a newspaper, or journalism in general. But I think this role is not successfully survived by online communities. I am watching how social movements rise and fall online, and I am seeing they just need traditional authority (like journalism) so much to make an impact on reality. They engage people quickly, but they disengage too. They just cannot achieve their goals if not supported, guided, or led by something or somebody that is less anonymous, less crowded, less fluid. They just need an institution (in a broad sense) and I think this role can be held by journalism, hovewer there are some others who would like to play it.
So I would add it to to your list of core elements of journalism nowadays and include it into your study programme. And by the way: this is exactly what I understand the Mail’s Dacre is arguing for, however I may totally disagree with his policies and practices. Moral outrage is one of the social roles media can play, but of course there are many others.
2) In your lecture you’re obviously focusing on journalists’ output, and it is indeed weakening. I am sure we both see another change in the input — it’s the process of professionalisation of news makers. News is becoming PR-driven and this is like collapse of the Rome empire and start of the Middle Ages. Governments, corporations, NGOs have got now tools and staff (ie. former journalists) to try to control news agenda on their own. According to the Cardiff University researchers 60% stories in the UK press were based on pre-packed material. I am watching the same trend in Poland, as financial constraints make media rely more and more on third-party sources.
A few days ago I was in Lithuania. I had lectures at universities in Vilnius and Kaunas. Their journalism faculties started to focus not on training of future media journalists, but of such third-party news makers. Every institution – public or private – wants now to have a professional website, PR staff, produce multimedia coverage etc. I believe this change is more important than the one brought by bloggers in their pyjamas.
In the short term the rise of PR-driven news is probably to corrupt professional media and speed up the decline of trust. In the long term — hopefully — this may lead to a backlash and a re-birth of professional journalism as the institution that could verify, investigate, witness and make sense of news.