In the recent edition of Times Magazine Matt Vilano looks at the role computer nerds can play in saving journalism. The piece details the forward looking work of the Knight Foundation and allied journalism schools like Northwestern’s Medill, which have created specialized degrees in journalism for software programmers, in order to find solutions to the crisis in journalism. The assumption is that whiz kid programmers are going to develop software, like Everyblock, that will make journalism both relevant and financially solvent in the age of the Internet.
While this article is definitely worth a read, and there are some important possibilities that programmers will offer in coming years, I question the arguments underlying premise that prior to the Internet and the current economic fix, journalism was working. The real truth is that the advertising dependent model of news and information has been failing poor and working class communities for a long time. Chomsky and Herman, among others, document how our mass media needs to produce a picture of the world which is attractive to advertisers. In creating this world image, our mass media has consistently marginalized the perspectives or poor folks, and built itself on stereotyping individuals and fragmenting communities in ways that have made it difficult for us to understand the true nature of the problems we collectively face.
If we take this history into account, it becomes clear that the real solution to the current journalism “crisis” lies not only in elaborate coding equations, but in a commitment to developing new voices. In order to create a just media that represents the concerns of those most marginalized we must make sure everyone has the tools and skills to tell and share stories and analyze situations. For this reason, the broadband funds in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and the FCC’s goal of building a national broadband strategy are key to creating a 21st century news, information and communication environment which serves all U.S. residents. So, while new journalism programs are an important step, unless we see both the promise and problems of journalism and work to correct some of the underlying assumptions, then the system we “rebuild” will be no better at representing everyone’s stories, struggles and successes then the one we had before.