Saturday, May 04, 2013

'being a journalist is harder than most people think'

Yesterday I attended "Information on Trial," a daylong conference at NYU's journalism school with Amnesty International and the Committee to Protect Journalists, an event to mark World Press Freedom Day.

Here is a bad iPhone pic of Columbia J-school prof Ann Cooper and
New Yorker writer George Packer, during their keynote conversation

George Packer said a few interesting things about the state of journalism during his keynote talk, things that went beyond hysterical "the media is dying" hand-wringing that I hear and read about all the time as a CJR editor.

On foreign reporting: Packer said outlets are less likely to invest in foreign reporting, which I knew. But I didn't know that this allegedly extends to accepting far-flung freelance pitches because, he said, publishers don't want to risk harm befalling the writer. This is a very real risk in many countries where there are very important stories playing out, like Syria. Last week, The New Yorker ran a compelling story out of Syria by freelancer Luke Mogelson (I couldn't put it down, and that doesn't happen to me frequently when Words with Friends is beckoning). Packer said the story was turned down by at least one other prominent outlet because of the risk involved in reporting it.

On citizen journalism: The rise of "everyone with Twitter can be a reporter" is usually heralded as a good thing from the information access standpoint (not so much the "journalists should be able to buy food standpoint). Packer said more information shouldn't be considered more journalism, but rather more potential sources and resources for journalists. That is: "They’re not journalists; they’re sources. They’re providing information that journalists should know how to use.” Also: “We have two things happening: We have old line news organizations pulling back from covering the world and maybe pulling back from news generally … At the same time, we have everyone with access to the internet, to social media, to a camera, acting like a journalist. I’m not saying that’s an entirely bad thing … especially in countries where you can’t be a journalist, or where you can’t function the way a journalist needs to … [But] being a journalist is hard. Doing it right is really hard, harder than most people think.”

I'll drink to that.

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