Rain Kooli: Our Crumbling Journalism ({{commentsTotal}})

In the following column, ERR's online opinion editor Rain Kooli reflects on the sad state of a once honorable profession and the factors that have led to its erosion. 

Most changes occur slowly, and that's certainly true for the media, which both here and abroad has been changing in a nearly imperceptible fashion.

It's impossible to say in retrospect where the first concession was made, where the building started crumbling.

Whatever the case, we find ourselves in a situation where the foundation of journalism has more cracks in it than it should, and the walls are thinner than they ought to be. This flaccidity has crept into the media in the form of an gradual letting-go, and it happened in many ways and for many reasons.

One of the reasons is decisions made by media concern owners, both justified and unjustified, which downsized employees in the interests of cost-effectiveness and choked off newsrooms as if cutting off the air supply to living beings.

Modern technology also plays a role: it makes us feel that information has to be relayed at ever faster rates and volumes in an effort to keep up with the competition.

Personnel policies have their part to play, too, as work goes not just to good journalists. People interested in their own private interests are also hired - as "society's watchdogs."

And so we find ourselves in a situation where the workday for most people we call journalists is spent browsing the web on a computer or, at best, talking on the phone; where a given news story might be based on a press release from some PR company, organization or company. Where in the absence of the best sources, information based only on one person's words and not backed up by evidence is also deemed fit to publish.

We're in a situation where the borderline between news and speculation is fuzzier and fuzzier, where expanded opinions are passed off as analysis, and where an interview can mean a few sloppily worded questions with a few answers hurriedly cobbled together and e-mailed back.

We're in a situation where newsrooms feed off of the rumor mill, the sweet nectar of conspiratorial inside information - beliefs and stereotypes hatched in someone's mind at some point, then passed down the grapevine, despite not effectively having a basis in reality.

We're in a situation where instead of being ashamed of the dreck that gets published, excuses are found - lack of time, other factors, or the line that "I know how these things work."

If someone points out that a news item is rubbish, the response is not gratitude but scorn - the critic "must not know anything about our work!"

We're in a situation where the few people who dare speak out in newsrooms about inefficient practices or poor job performance often get saddled with the reputation of office scold or "a difficult person to work with" or they get the silent treatment instead of their ideas being discussed. The message to them is "shut up and let us be."

That's not what journalism should be. But it is so right now, and were anyone to take stock of the situation as it stands, the general explanation is "that's the way things are."

Should it be that way? Do the media house owners really believe that a journalistic "discount mart" is better than a classy department store? Do media enterprises have some plan for regaining their prestige in society and quality later on, "when times have changed?"

If not, have the media execs thought through what marketplace they plan to ultimately flog their soggy waffle on?

Translated from the Estonian, with minor abridgement. Originally published on uudised.err.ee. 

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