One more dagger to the heart of journalism: The Newspaper Association of America has decided to eliminate the word “newspaper” from its official title. Henceforth, it will be called the News Media Alliance. Jim Rutenberg of The New York Times cited Sept. 7, 2016 as “the day the American newspaper as we’ve known it moved out of intensive care and into the palliative wing on its way to the Great Beyond.”
The reasons for the name change for an organization that has been in existence since 1887 are many, Rutenberg writes. The obvious reason, he notes, is the continuing drop in the number of newspapers, meaning fewer potential members. Membership “has fallen to about 2,000 from roughly 2,700 in 2008, executives there say.”
A bigger issue, the group’s chief executive told Rutenberg, “was that the word ‘newspaper’ has become meaningless in reference to many of the group’s members, including The Washington Post, The New York Times and Dow Jones. They may have newspapers, but they get large percentages of their readers online. Actually, you can’t even refer exclusively to ‘readers’ these days when so many millions are ‘viewers’ of online news video.”
Oh, the pain of it! Walter Williams must be spinning in his grave. He founded the first ̶ IN THE WORLD ̶ school of journalism at my alma mater, the University of Missouri. He traveled the world extolling the principle that journalism is a profession requiring serious university study and accompanying respect. As outlined in Wikipedia, other colleges and universities began to emulate Missouri’s invention, and “Williams became increasingly concerned they would not adhere to the same high journalistic standards being taught at ‘Mizzou.’ So in 1941 he created the Journalist’s Creed, a statement of professional guidelines often evoked as the definitive code of ethics for journalists. It is posted in bronze at the National Press Club in Washington DC.”
It’s also in a frame on the wall of my office. Reading it in light of the current situation can make you cry. Or, in a week when Facebook can’t discern between child pornography and an award-winning depiction of the horrors of napalm bombing, just shake your head at how far we have strayed from Williams’ vision. The Creed begins:
“I believe in the profession of journalism. I believe that the public journal is a public trust, that all connected with it are, to the full measure of their responsibility, trustees for the public, that acceptance of a lesser service than the public service is betrayal of this trust.” It goes on to endorse “clear thinking and clear statement, accuracy and fairness” as fundamental to good journalism, and that “a journalist should write only what he holds in his heart to be true.” It says that “suppression of the news for any consideration other than the welfare of society is indefensible.” And, in a time before we women forced ourselves into the profession, “that no one should write as a journalist what he would not say as a gentleman.”
There’s more, but you get the idea. Different times indeed.
So here’s a question for you: With the proliferation of online-only publications like Salon, Slate, Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, Politico, Jezabel and The Daily Beast, can it still be called “journalism” when there’s not actually a journal involved? Just asking.