New media v. old media back home at ol’ Mizzou

Back at my alma mater, the journalism school‘s faculty and the board of the Columbia Missourian are trying to figure out what the heck to do with a failing community newspaper.

There’s nothing unusual about the situation. Newspapers all over the country are in the same sinking boat and have been for years. Print sales are falling, and classified sales are virtually nonexistent. But there is something unusual about the Missourian: The paper serves as a learning lab for every student in a print or online media sequence in the journalism school. It’s not a student newspaper — it’s a community daily.

(However, one of MU’s student newspapers, the Maneater, covered the story here.)

The board is interested in being financially stable, but because of the Missourian’s place in the j-school curriculum, they also have to meet the needs of the students. So they’re throwing every option out there for consideration, including abandoning the 100-year-old press across the street (Missouri is the country’s oldest journalism school) and going putting all of their eggs in the online basket.

The story broke several weeks ago, but for some reason, just this week the j-school alumni have started discussing the plight of the Missourian on our Yahoo group. Since it’s so personal to all of us who suffered through the crash course in newspaper journalism that the Missourian provides, it’s been the most heated and nuanced discussion I’ve seen about new media.

The Missourian has been ahead of its time in going online, creating a citizen journalism project, offering a downloadable PDF version of the daily print version, mobile news and multimedia storytelling. Will it also be an early adopter of the next way to be a newspaper — to eliminate the paper? It’s hard to say just yet, beause this isn’t about the fate of a newspaper. It’s about where journalism education is right now and where it will go next.

Up next, the best of the alumni arguments.

You signed up for this

As promised, here’s part two of why the media scrutiny of Sarah Palin is perfectly normal.

When you run for public office in this country, you are fair game in the eyes of the media. The American people are electing you to a position of power. You are meant to represent the voice and will of the people. You will oversee our tax dollars and enforce or create our laws.

So if you’re running for office, we the people want to know a little bit about you.

Someone has to learn all about you and disseminate that information to the public, because if we don’t know who we’re voting for, then we no longer live in a democracy. The handlers for politicians aren’t going to give you the whole story, because they’re working for the politicians to make them look their best. The pundits pick and choose what information they disseminate based on an agenda; they answer to their base.

Now, a lot of people aren’t going to believe this, and it is a bit shocking, so I hope you’re sitting down: The media works for and answers to YOU.

Yeah yeah, we can argue about corporate ownership of the major news organizations, someone can chime in with a quip about Rupert Murdoch and skewer the “media elite,” and don’t even get me started on how the mainstream media covers celebrities. I’ll be the first to admit that this isn’t a perfect system.

However, when you boil it down to the basics, the whole point of the profession of journalism is to serve the public by giving them the truth.

So is the press picking on Sarah Palin, or anyone else involved with the election? No. She chose to accept the nomination and knew the consequences. Like every politician before her, she has chosen to enter a profession that puts her and her family in the spotlight. And the press, as the only nongovernmental check on power, is simply doing its job and investigating a person who chose this path.

If you don’t like it, then you shouldn’t have signed up for this.

Condensed scrutiny

This might seem smack-your-head obvious, but in all of the defenses I’ve read of the media elite‘s “attacks” on Sarah Palin, no one has came out and stated the obvious. Before the announcement that she would be McCain’s running mate, no one in the lower 48 (what they like to call “outside” in Alaska) had ever heard of her, therefore: She has to undergo the same scrutiny as everyone else all at once, rather than spread out over months of primaries or a decades-long career in national politics.

Is this really that hard to understand?

Journalists don’t get together and say, hey! Let’s pick on this VP candidate none of us know! That’s not how it works. Journalists ask questions. Lots of them. Who is she? What does she stand for? What is her record? Why is she on this ticket? Where is Wasilla? The public, our stakeholders, didn’t know the answers to these questions.  So journalists had to ask and answer.

Everyone else has been scrutinized already. No one really knew Obama before, either, but the press has had a year to analyze, dig, dig more, scrutinize, interview, dig — you get my point. Hillary Clinton even used this as a talking point during her campaign; everyone, and I mean everyone, knows the dirt on her.

When you enter the national stage with a flash and a bang, that’s how you’ll enter the fourth estate, too. The press isn’t picking on Sarah Palin. The press is doing its job as quickly as possible to bridge that knowledge gap. Now, stay tuned for part two: why choosing to run for elected government office in this country makes you 100 percent fair game to be scrutinized by the media. (Hint: It’s called democracy.)

Media Elite, noun

I’m often amazed by the buzzwords and phrases the PR people create. They lend heavy connotation to words that lacked weight before. As a writer, I have to respect their cunning use of language. But “media elite” has always baffled me, so the recent bashing of the media elite sent me to my friend Merriam-Webster for help.

Elite, noun, 1a: the choice part 1b: the best of a class 1c: the socially superior part of society 1d: a group of persons who by virtue of position or education exercise much power or influence 1e: a member of such an elite — usually used in plural.

The choice part? Hey, that’s not so bad. Who wouldn’t want to get their news from the choicest of journalists? The best of a class? Well, that might depend on which class we’re talking about. The socially superior part of a society? A group that exercises much power or influence? Now we’re getting into dangerous territory.

We can appreciate the choice part. When you order fillet mignon, you want to eat the choice part of the cow. We can appreciate the best of a class — the brainiac who aces every test in school. But the rest is too much. It’s undemocratic. Besides, we independently minded Americans don’t like to think anyone could really influence us that much anyway, right?

If you don’t like the media elite, dissent all you want — they can take it, it’s what they signed on for. Choose not to be influenced by them, and use the democracy of the web to choose a non-elite media for yourself.

Here’s the rub: In your search for non-elite media, did you find the choice part, or the best?