After Witnessing Layoffs and Cutbacks Firsthand — And Surviving — Are Newspaper Journalists Better Prepared To Cover Economic Woes?

schultz.pngConnie Schultz, a columnist at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, used her column in this Sunday’s paper to respond to a comment made by digital media maven Tina Brown to the Chicago Tribune last week while finding some sort of silver lining to the apparent death of newspapers.

Yes, Schultz conceded, veteran journalists are worried about job security. But they also fear “the online threat to standards we hold dear,” she said. Brown, who said journalists in their 50’s are afraid of the moves the industry is making towards digital media, was “too flip in assessing what worries many journalists,” Schultz added.

Schultz argued that, contrary to what Brown and others think, blogs are not the future of the media. “The so-called citizen journalism of most blogs is an affront to those of us who believe reporting and attribution must precede publication.”

Instead of turning to blogs, readers should still be able to look to newspapers, where beleaguered reporters are now better equipped to report the difficult stories about people who are down on their luck — because they have witnessed the layoffs, cutbacks and economic uncertainty firsthand.

As Schultz concludes:

“Shared experiences nurture empathy, and that’s a handy skill when you’re capturing in words, pictures and video the essence of another human being. Our privileged, arm’s length status from the people we cover has evaporated, and the view from common ground is fueling some of the most poignant journalism in years.

One of the greatest challenges for print journalists now is to respond to change while staying rooted in the values that brought us to this profession. We feel more vulnerable because we are, but troubled times can soften edges and open hearts to the suffering around us.”

Schultz was really hard on bloggers. They are not all anything goes, facts optional Web sites she describes them to be. Yes, some citizen journalists do nothing more than propagate gossip, but others — whether they once worked in traditional media or not — are doing amazing, in-depth, investigative work. Some cover news that newspapers, low on capital and manpower, don’t have the resources to cover. She may have a point in that traditional journalists are now better equipped to cover the stories going on in their backyards, but what’s the connection between that and blog-bashing? Blogs and traditional media should work hand in hand to effectively provide all the news the public desires.

Traditional media types like to boast about the legitimacy of what they do, while berating the work of online journalists. But blogs don’t take readers away from traditional news sources nor are they are not the cause for the industry’s demise (blame declining ad revenues for that). They add to the conversation, and columnists like Schultz can use them to their advantage.

Instead of coming across as defiant and prophetic, Schultz instead sounds uninformed and out of the loop. There’s more to blogs and citizen journalists than anonymous commenters and Tina Brown. But maybe Brown was right. Are all traditional journalists as scared of the digital revolution as Schultz?

Photo from the Plain Dealer.