I am currently reading a lot of Canadian history. It reminds me of how much newspapering and journalism has changed, in my own lifetime. How much it has declined.
In the old days, right up to the generation just before my own, newspapering was a working class occupation. Nobody in the newsroom had a degree of any kind. Peter Gzowski did, a B.A., and was thought of as a real egghead as a result.
This was a very good arrangement for several reasons. Probably most importantly, it meant that journalizing was by its nature anti-establishment. You got the unofficial view, a contrast from the view you got from the government, the schools, the professions, the academy. Which is the reason for having a fourth estate.
Second, people got into newspapering, and rose in the trade, because they wrote well. This is not something that can be taught. And because they had an interesting, unconventional turn of mind—that’s what news is, the interesting and the unexpected. Again, this is not something that can be taught.
Third, under this system, journalism was an outlet for very bright working class kids, who otherwise have nowhere to go and no chance to make good.
Contemporary journalism, as in “the mainstream media” or “the legacy media” has lost its way and is no longer worth watching or reading, because none of this is any longer the case. Back in about the 1960s, newspapermen decided to join the establishment, and become a “profession.” This just does not work. If they are just going to parrot the establishment view, there is no longer any reason to read a newspaper or to watch the news. Worse, by requiring j-school instead of sinking or swimming on the job, we have ended up with a lot of journalists who have no ability to write and no nose for news. And we have priced the job beyond the means of those bright working class kids.
From this perspective, all the “new media” are really doing is restoring journalism as it always was: a non-establishment, ordinary-citizen voice.
It seems to me no coincidence that the very best Canadian political blogs, Kathy Shaidle’s Five Feet of Fury and Kate McMillan’s Small Dead Animals, are both put out by working-class women. I am not working class by any definition I can think of, but that is certainly what I want to read. There is no reason to read what you already know.