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The Ultimate Journalism Ethical Question

A couple of weeks ago I stopped by a panel entitled: Ethics and the Business of Journalism: A Discussion of Urgent Importance at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) annual convention. Most of the questions dealt with the ethical mainstream questions such as is there too much Britney Spears on the front page.

Here, I believe, is the ultimate ethical question: If the American public does not want to pay for journalism — in other words, doesn’t find value in what we as journalists do — should we simply stop doing it?

Response: Amy Gahran takes on the question at Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits writing in part:

It’s an intriguing question, but I think it contains a few fallacies.

She adds:

I think the real question isn’t whether we should “stop doing journalism” if people won’t pay for it, but rather: How can society continue to receive the benefits of journalism, given the current media environment? Also, which players might provide those benefits, and how?

It’s a fair question. Read Gahran’s whole post. She calls my question provocative, but I am not sure if it is. Here is a truism, if journalists don’t get paid decently for what they do, they will eventually stop doing it. Then Gahran’s question — which players might provide those benefits, and how? — comes into play.

Response: Bethany Anderson after reading Amy Gahran’s response writes that since news has been subsidized by advertising:

strictly speaking, the American public does not pay for its journalism – nor has it ever, really.

I agree. If advertising and journalism are forever linked, we will not have a problem. However, I don’t think it will be forever linked. All the trends are that the journalism and advertising are decoupling. So if advertising is no longer subsidizing journalism, then what? Where will the money come from to pay journalists a decent, living wage? Why are we so adverse to thinking that everyday people who pay for most of the other valued services in their lives will refuse to pay for high quality, ethically sound news and information? And then we are back to our original ethical question: If they don’t find enough value to pay for the work we do, why do it?

7 Responses to “The Ultimate Journalism Ethical Question”

  1. Amy Gahran Says:

    Interesting question, Leonard! But I think it contains a couple of fallacies. I just shared my thoughts on this topic on Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits

    - Amy Gahran

  2. Notes from a Teacher: Mark on Media » Monday squibs Says:

    [...] The Ultimate Journalism Ethical Question. Len Witt asks: ” the America public does not want to pay for journalism — in other words, doesn’t find value in what we as journalists do — should we simply stop doing it?” Go read and join the conversation. [...]

  3. …se não querem pagar pelo que fazemos devemos continuar? « Says:

    [...] journalists do — should we simply stop doing it?“. Vale a pena ler o que ele próprio escreve sobre o assunto e a resposta de Amy Gahran no E-Media [...]

  4. Joshua Johnson Says:

    I think it’s a great question… and that the Poynter response dodges it.
    Personally, I don’t think that journalism as a business venture is dead by a longshot. It’s just antiquated, but it’s got tremendous potential for reinvention. Amy Gehren’s post makes some points in her rebuttal, that could also be rebutted. She asks when the last time was that we paid for a clinical trial, for example, or paid to have clean air. Well, there are HIV vaccine clinical trials that are funded by individual donations, and every time we pay to plant a tree we’re literally buying cleaner air.
    The point is, YES, it’s still worth doing. Just not worth doing the same old way. So to answer your question — directly — hell, yes. Journalism with a capital “J” is, was and will always be necessary. It’s vital for a free society to have freely flowing information. We shouldn’t burden the public to be its own reporter all the time, because people will get tired of it! Someone’s got to maintain a corps of professional truth-seekers who care more about freedom of information, than just about anything else. The only thing we’re lacking is the right idea, and the corporate will to put it in motion.
    Yes. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. A ZILLION TIMES YES. It’s worth doing, and worth fighting for. I just fear my colleagues in the industry might surrender too soon.

  5. Finally Reporters Accepting Metamorphasis « TEACH J: For Teachers of Journalism And Media Says:

    [...] is still a bit of a holdout for woe and despair – their post is a conversation starter: Should we keep doing journalism if the community does not value it enough to pay for [...]

  6. Mark Says:

    Hmm, let’s see you want to take your toys and go home because all of us “flyover” people won’t worship you and your “valuable contribution” to society.

    Good. Don’t let the door hit you in the a**.

    Someday when “journalists” grow up, they will realize that we are tired of paying for arrogant, condescending, and VERY slanted pieces that pass for journalism; which are in fact slightly less than propaganda. Many of which are openly hostile to the interests of America.

    Funny how when “talk radio” started pointing out your bias, the subs began to decline. Now that the Internet allows anyone to respond and to show the bias, distortion, and failed reporting; subs are plummeting.

    Your response is to pout and blame the reader for not being smart enough to value your “contribution.”

    Zig Ziglar said it best: “My biiiiiig stack of money outweighs your leeeetle stack of benefits.”

    When newsies figure out that means they are the problem; then and only then will we see newspapers, broadcasts, and other news outlets worth viewing or reading AND PAYING FOR.

    Welcome to the real world. It’s rough out here, not like the echo chamber of the newsroom where everyone thinks a like and is insulated from those ‘bad people out there.’

    Paid content succeeds on the Internet. That means you must be the failures. Yep, that’s it.

  7. links for 2008-08-31 « DigiDave - Journalism is a Process, Not a Product Says:

    [...] The Ultimate Journalism Ethical Question Lenn Witt asks a hard nosed question: “If the America public does not want to pay for journalism âÂ?Â? in other words, doesnâÂ?Â?t find value in what we as journalists do âÂ?Â? should we simply stop doing it?” [...]