The value of journalism, sir, is not ‘zero’
First and foremost, Paton is wrong to dismiss the intrinsic value to society of vigorous, ethical and independent journalism that is committed to comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. There is no other institution to perform this function, making journalism – and journalists – not only valuable but also well worth saving.
In addition to being way off base, Paton’s conclusion is oddly illogical, inasmuch as he is counting heavily on journalism to turn around the recently bankrupt company that he is trying to restore to financial health.
Here’s what Paton said in remarks prepared for a keynote speech last week to the WAN-IFRA International Newsroom Summit in Zurich: “As career journalists and managers, we have entered a new era where what we know and what we traditionally do has finally found its value in the marketplace and that value is about zero.”
Explaining that the digital media have empowered everyone, everywhere to report or comment on the news, Paton pronounced “traditional journalism” to be dead, according to a text of the speech he published at the blog he maintains to motivate the employees of his company. “The Crowd collectively knows more about any subject, city or event we choose to cover than we do.”
In steering Journal Register out of the bankruptcy occasioned by the financial over-reaching of his predecessors, Paton has decided to outsource almost every aspect of his business – from ad make-up to information technology – so he can concentrate on its two unique competencies: content production and advertising sales.
To be successful, Paton necessarily must rely on the skillful production, aggregation and curation of reporting, writing, photography and other content to create high-quality, authoritative and compelling products that people want to read – and where advertisers want to appear. While some of the content can, and should, come from the crowd instead of paid staffers, someone is going to have to make sense of all the yadda-yadda on the web.
In other words, the value of Paton’s publications in the eyes of readers and advertisers will require them to be professionally put together.
That will require journalists performing journalism. So, how can he say that journalists – and journalism – have no commercial value?
Even if, arguendo, there were no “commercial value” to journalism, the pursuit of disciplined and open-minded inquiry into public affairs and social issues has an incalculable value to society. Whether they are working for a media company or blogging for free, ethical and professional journalists contribute just as much as artists, scientists, academic researchers and people who dedicate themselves to fighting to assure honest government, enhance social justice and alleviate human suffering.
Given the flood of free content available on the web, publishers may not have to pay journalists what they are worth. But that doesn’t make journalism, or journalists, worthless.