December 30, 2008

Editor’s note: Last month, Kimn Swenson Gollnick, a graduate student at the University of Iowa, posed some questions about the future of journalism to G. Stuart Adam, a journalism professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. Adam, a Poynter affiliate, wrote Journalism: the Democratic Craft with Roy Peter Clark.

This is an edited version of their exchange.

Kimn Swenson Gollnick: How can newspapers survive? What is the future for students studying journalism?

G. Stuart Adam: I suggest that in order to reflect on the future — and to encourage a more sanguine view of the situation — you distinguish between journalism as a cultural practice, on the one hand, and media, on the other. The term “media” blends (and blurs) concepts of culture and technology. When used as a synonym for journalism, the term “media” pushes technology into the foreground and conceals the fact that “journalism” is one thing and “media” is another. The latter refers mainly to technologies of various effects and uses.

With this distinction in mind I encourage you to think of journalism as a form of expression or brain work that includes making news judgments, gathering evidence, constructing narratives and making sense of things. It is a method of capturing and representing the world of events and ideas as they occur. While there is no doubt that the journalistic method developed in newspapers, that it established itself later in the broadcast media and that it is media-dependent, it is nevertheless a distinctive form of expression on which modern democratic societies depend. Now it is surfacing in the Internet. So the future of journalism, while dependent on media, is not wholly dependent on newspapers.

The impulse to engage in journalism is as much political as it is economic. I believe what the late James Carey said — namely, that journalism is one of the ways in which a democratic nation engages in a conversation with itself. I believe that Americans will continue to respond to their past and the democratic culture it inspires. I think Americans will figure out a way to continue a democratic conversation and that journalism will figure prominently in it.

What do you think of the recent announcements of publications moving from print to online editions only? Do you foresee more of this trend happening to mainstream media?

Adam: I can’t say much about the economics or marketing of new media. I am a student of the craft of journalism, not strictly speaking of media, of economics or of complex organizations. In the meantime, I believe that the newspaper industry will shrink but that it will survive. I think online publishing will expand and then consolidate.

What would you tell young journalists today, given the future as you see it for journalism?

Adam: I say to student journalists that if you want to write for a living, and if public life excites you, then stick to it. In the meantime, there will always be a demand, although possibly not as much, for people who can report, think and write quickly and coherently.

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G. STUART ADAM is the Journalism Scholarship Fellow at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies and Professor Emeritus of Journalism at Carleton University, Ottawa. He…
G. Stuart Adam

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