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Opinion

Mainstream news media: not dead yet

To survive in the Digital Age, journalism needs to be simultaneously fast-paced and substantive, snarky and thought-provoking. Or, at the very least, it must find some middle ground where illuminating investigative pieces and Mel Gibson telephone call mash-ups can coexist.

By Meghan Lewit / August 10, 2010



Los Angeles

If the past couple of weeks are any indication, mainstream media may be primed for a comeback.

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In July, The Washington Post published its massive “Top Secret America” series, painstakingly detailing the growth of the US intelligence community after 9/11. When it ran, New York Observer editor Kyle Pope crowed (on Twitter, ironically), “Show me the bloggers who could have done this!”

The Los Angeles Times recently mobilized a community to action when it broke the news that top city officials in Bell, Calif., one of the poorest cities in Los Angeles County, were raking in annual salaries ranging from $100,000 to $800,000.

Clearly, if mainstream media is an aging fighter against the ropes, it still has a few punches left to throw. But such make-a-difference journalism requires lots of time and money, something most news outlets don’t have. And it runs counter to the frantic pace of modern, Web-driven newsrooms.

Snarky and thought-provoking

So for journalism to survive in the Digital Age, it needs to be simultaneously fast-paced and substantive, snarky and thought-provoking.

Or, at the very least, it must find some middle ground where illuminating investigative pieces and Mel Gibson telephone call mash-ups can coexist.

The 24/7 newsroom has become an intractable part of the media landscape, and the Web is the primary battleground news outlets have to win in order to stay competitive.

That has forced journalists to become much more mindful of online traffic, which can sap morale. As a recent New York Times piece put it: “Young journalists who once dreamed of trotting the globe in pursuit of a story are instead shackled to their computers, where they try to eke out a fresh thought or be first to report even the smallest nugget of news – anything that will impress Google algorithms and draw readers their way.”

Reporters need time for unglamorous work

But the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times pieces demonstrate that, regardless of whether the stories appear in print or online, reporters still need the time and space to be effective watchdogs – to track down sources and slog through the reams of financial disclosures, court documents, and election filings that often fill the better part of a journalist’s working life.

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