As is often the case with book authors, Scott Reinardy too had something else in mind when, more than a decade ago, he set out to write on the state of newsrooms across the States. He encountered ravaged newsrooms and journalists near breaking point, professionally and mentally. The combined effect of the Internet and social networks, and the downsizing the massive restructuring implied, has brought three generations of journalists to their knees.
In an interview with the Columbia Journalism Review, Reinardy said, “I had many journalists who broke down and cried, who were so genuinely upset about what had happened to the profession they loved so dearly.” Reluctantly, he came to the conclusion that we are witnessing what he called “organizational depression.” So low is morale and so deep the loss of self-identity that professional burnout has caused that Reinardy believes the problem is generational. And so he states in Journalism’s Lost Generation: The Un-Doing of U.S. Newspaper Newsrooms.
There are three “lost” generations, he says. The first one are those journalists who lost their jobs in the layoffs, cuts, and newspaper shutdowns. Then are the older generation of journalists, those who made their career in print media and now, in much smaller newsrooms, have seen their workload rise. More acutely, they are being forced to learn new technologies in mid-career or as they approach retirement. The last one are the younger journalists and graduates, who are versed in multimedia and new technologies but miss the guidance by their confused or demoralized elders.
Dismal as the situation is, a few things can be done to address these issues. Indeed, the upheavals brought about by fundamental technological transformations will inevitably cause pain. Yet not a few of these problems are caused by panicked management that does not fully understand the changes the industry is undergoing.
Furthermore, as modern technologies allow real-time measurements, instant clicks are obscuring the larger picture. Hence, an appetite for instant audience is undermining the long-term perspective. Worse, the onus is put on older reporters who are as dazzled by technology as management. And the younger writers lack a sense of guidance and purpose.
The tenets of good journalism are unchanged: pursuit of truth, impartiality in news, and integrity in opinion. None of the new technologies conspires against that. So good journalists should keep on doing what they know best: doing good journalism. True, these are tough times. But as they say in those cases, “When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.”