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Opening Arguments

The golden age

Stop all the hand-wringing, journalists. Things are actually looking pretty good:

But I would argue that maybe it’s not that bad, that maybe all the things that people have savaged the Internet for — speed, carelessness, chaos, the destruction of the daily newspaper — are actually creating a golden age for journalism.

[. . .]

Most handwringing about the state of journalism is done by journalists. They are worried about losing their jobs, so it’s not surprising that they tend to be fretful. But turn the issue upside down for a second, and think about the state of journalism from journalism’s audience. The real purpose of journalism, after all, is not to provide me a job, but to inform and entertain the public. And by that standard, it is clear we are living in a golden age. There has never been a better time to be a reader and watcher and listener of news. Never have you had so many choices, and so many that are excellent.

And it’s also still a pretty excellent time to be a journalist. A generation ago, you could read your local newspaper, and receive magazines in the mail, weeks after the articles in them were written. Today, every single magazine and newspaper in the world is available to anyone with an Internet connection, instantaneously. A generation ago, the only people who could produce news were those millionaires who owned presses and TV and radio licenses. Today, anyone in the world can publish and broadcast. There are no barriers to entry: As we saw in the Arab Spring, the combination of social media and cellphone cameras could turn any citizen into a journalist.

I think I mostly agree. It's not easy being an optimist when your're caught right in the middle of a technological revolution. Certainly things are changing and evolving, faster than they ever have, and the pace of change is only going to accelerate. But for everything we lose -- so long, printed newspapers and magazines -- we gain three or four things. If I were in college today, I think I'd be even more excited about going into journalism than I was way back when I entered the profession.

Not that there aren't going to be problems:

The one that bothers me most is ideological sorting. Political news no longer comes to us primarily from nonpartisan sources. Instead, media organizations on the left and right filter it for their consumers. We now read in enclaves. Show me your Google history and I’ll tell you who you voted for. One of the disappointing and scary things I have learned as an editor, is that one of the best ways to attract readers is to pander to one side or the other. As a journalist, this worries me. As a citizen, it terrifies me. This is the one change brought about by digital journalism that seems genuinely dangerous, and genuinely hard to undo.

I don't think that I'm as worried as he is by the echo-chamber effect. Newspapers started out, don't forget, as highly partisan scandal sheets. Actual, objective, neutral "news" actually came later. I think this will all be sorted out. There are already plenty of places online to visit if you want more than an idological shouting match, and there are going to be a lot more.