A few weeks ago I wrote about the future of journalism and how SpaceFlightNow.com is providing innovative, interactive coverage of NASA Space Shuttle launches. To me, the future rests in the hands of the journalists and entrepreneurs who will find creative ways to deliver information to diverse audiences. Social media platforms and other new technologies will evolve to give venues to journalists who are now losing their jobs at newspapers and more traditional mediums.
As has happened throughout U.S. history, journalism finds a way because information is best when shared. I believe journalism will find a way now, too.
What bothers me, is that Congress is poking its nose into journalism's future. Senator John Kerry (D-MA) has announced he will hold a hearing on the future of journalism on May 6. Apparently the economy, war or health care no longer require our attention. According to Broadcasting and Cable, there is no witness list yet, but from Kerry's statement, it appears to focus on newspapers.
"The history of our Republic is inextricably linked to the narrative of our free and independent press," he said in announcing the hearing. "Yet today, America’s newspapers are struggling just to stay afloat. I called this hearing to directly address a problem that for too long has had us turning the other way. Whatever the model for the future, we must do all we can to ensure a diverse and independent news media endures.”
Does anyone remember anything good that ever came from a Congressional hearing? What is he looking to accomplish? The Constitution says that Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of the press. How can anything that comes out of this exercise do anything except abridge it? Are we going to bailout newspapers? If so, how will we trust that an editorial written to endorse a candidate isn’t compromised because Uncle Sam dropped a big bag of cash to the publisher?
To avoid the appearance of partiality, most newsrooms have policies against sources buying a reporter lunch. If a sandwich at the deli is going to screw up the editorial process what will a bailout do to it?
My advice to Senator Kerry (not that he’s asking) is to let the journalists and entrepreneurs figure this out. Miles O’Brien was laid off from anchoring and reporting on CNN, but he’s back anchoring and reporting in this new environment (and doing really well!). Just as people figured out how to make their newspapers relevant with the advent of radio, and radio reinvented itself when television came on the scene, the media will figure this out. We know that people want news. We know that people will figure out ways to make money delivering it.
Congress can’t help with this. Freedom of the Press includes the freedom to fail.