Well, it can, actually. Journalists stopped being trusted guides long ago and the public caught on. Journalists can complain about how much more vitriolic the discourse has gotten, but that's really only because the Internet has made it possible for both sides to get coverage.
During the days of Walter Cronkite, everyone in media was liberal - and that was understandable. Journalists back then did not go to college, they were young people who got jobs at papers and covered the morgue and they covered night court. They saw the worst things happening in society and who wouldn't look at one of the greatest countries in the world and want to believe there was a better way, a more fair way, for everyone?
But along the way, journalists didn't want to just report the news, they wanted to become it. Walter Cronkite began the demise of journalism in 1968 when he came out against the Viet Nam war. Woodward&Bernstein drove another stake in the heart of journalism when they made anonymous sources and the narrative more important than journalism. Editors and professors in journalism are horrified I would say such a thing because they are iconic to editors and journalism professors. They can continue to be iconic while the occupation dies and journalists lament how important they are. The legacy was that the next generation of journalists wanted to have an impact too, so they were even more Cronkite than Cronkite, they wanted to speak out against everything. When the public, both Republicans and Democrats, are needed to read your publication in order for it to stay in business, it is a bad idea to make it obvious you are taking sides.
You know who we don't have any more? Elevator operators. It used to be that elevators were too dangerous for people to run themselves and elevator operators were essential. Then elevators were safer but elevator operators were a nice luxury. Today, we all recognize we don't need someone to push an elevator button and so most hotels don't them. Some people even take the stairs.
So it goes with journalism. It won't die - it can't die - and since starting Science 2.0 I have become more impressed by journalism than I was before. There will always be jobs for great writers at Esquire but science journalism is, for the most part, dead. Big media companies are not dropping science journalism because they are simply greedy corporations, they drop journalists because no one wants to read them. They lost the public trust by being either cheerleaders for science or not very knowledgeable. Science journalists lost the public trust because they forgot how to ask the awkward questions that political journalists ask.
Despite a lack of science journalism, adult science literacy has tripled since I graduated college. The audience for science is huge, the audience for 400 word articles on science written at the 8th grade level, not so much. People got smarter, just what society said we always wanted.
It's rare that a journalist or an academic writes something I wish I had written. Imagine how rare it is to find someone who is both. That someone today is Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at New York University. I first heard of him in 2006 when he was involved in a project called Assignment Zero, an experiment in pro-am journalism that was doomed to fail for obvious reasons; the journalists believed bloggers were failed journalists, like actors regard movie critics. The tone at Assignment Zero was condescending, with the ridiculous carrot being maybe you will get printed in real media. But Rosen was not like that and I follow his stuff sporadically (hey, if someone really wants me to read them, they will write on Science 2.0) and a few months ago he wrote a piece called The Twisted Psychology of Bloggers vs. Journalists: My Talk at South By Southwest. I had noted it then but if I don't read an article within a day, 50 others have taken its place.
Fortunately, Twitter came to the rescue.
In it, he says many of the things I have said before, in too many places to count, maybe a little differently. Journalism as it exists today and for the last few decades is not better just because it is newer and there is no sense of entitlement for journalists who feel like the public they have contempt for need them.
Like me, he is aghast at social media guidelines from big media. Corporate bosses need to hide the white elephant in the room that everyone can see; that most journalists are progressives. Keith Olbermann was censured - at MSNBC, which no one mistakes for journalism much less balanced journalism - for giving money to Democrats. Did anyone seriously not know before then that Olbermann was a Democrat? Does anyone not know Fox News is right wing?
What Rosen does so well in the piece I linked to above is embrace what doomed modern journalism - passion - in a way corporate media cannot. Like I said in the beginning, few journalists of my age went into journalism to tell the most neutral, balanced story possible, they wanted to write a Pulitzer-winner about how homeless people were the fault of Republicans. We get that. We know you sure didn't go into it for the money.
But you know what? Neither did bloggers. Bloggers instead have passion journalists can't have if they want to stay employed. And scientists who write on Science 2.0 not only have more passion than journalists, they have more knowledge. Science 2.0 disrupts the old model even while big media groups who start science blogging sites try to corral it to make a buck.
Bloggers are purifying journalism in a righteous fire - because blogging is different, in that they can't fly off to Washington, D.C. to have a dateline and feel included, does not mean they do no research. In both mainstream journalism and the science kind, the instances where bloggers uncovered issues mainstream journalists and editors missed are too numerous to count. In science blogging, the writers are not less knowledgeable than journalists, they are far more knowledgeable. And the science audience is also. You'll never see a "Meet The Press" of science journalists on television because the science audience knows more than most journalists.
Rosen likens the situation to doctors and patients with Internet access; doctors hate the Internet. A doctor wants to not listen to you and hear only answers to questions he asks and write a prescription so he can pay someone to fill out reams of paperwork so he can get government money to pay for malpractice insurance he needs to protect himself from lawyers we won't rein in because it's cheaper for the government to nationalize health care than fight lawyers about tort reform which would mean less need for malpractice insurance and less paperwork and lower costs for patients.
A knowledgeable patient upsets all that because it takes too much time and there are too many questions. But the Internet is not going away. Cultural survival of the fitter is happening.
Rosen sees journalism as a 250-year-old dynamic membrane. It changed 43 years ago, it changed 90 years ago, it changed 10 years ago, it will keep changing. He outlines five factors that are causing spasms in the membrane now, but it will survive.
He welcomes the age of the neo-journalist. And so do we.