De­pressed jour­nal­ists are de­press­ing na­tion

The Covington News - - OPINION - SCOTT RAS­MUSSEN COLUM­NIST To find out more about Scott Ras­mussen and read fea­tures by other Cre­ators Syn­di­cate writ­ers and car­toon­ists, visit www.cre­ators.com.

I am far more pes­simistic about our po­lit­i­cal sys­tem than most Amer­i­cans. At the same time, I am very op­ti­mistic about the fu­ture of our na­tion. That may seem like an odd com­bi­na­tion to some, but I am op­ti­mistic be­cause I rec­og­nize that Wash­ing­ton, D.C., does not lead the na­tion.

Na­tional lead­er­ship flows from ev­ery­day Amer­i­cans who work hard to sup­port their fam­i­lies and build their com­mu­ni­ties. New tech­nol­ogy is em­pow­er­ing them in amaz­ing ways. Smart­phone own­ers to­day have more in­for­ma­tion, en­ter­tain­ment and com­mu­ni­ca­tions ca­pa­bil­ity in the palm of their hands than the rich­est 1 per­cent en­joyed just a gen­er­a­tion or two ago. So, why is ev­ery­one so pes­simistic? Partly it’s be­cause our econ­omy is go­ing through a tran­si­tion and tran­si­tions are tough. They cre­ate win­ners and losers. Even though the next gen­er­a­tion will be bet­ter off be­cause of the tran­si­tion we are en­dur­ing, it’s not a pleas­ant ex­pe­ri­ence for many living through it.

How­ever, the pes­simism is over­stated, and a big part of the blame comes from the fact that elite jour­nal­ists are on the los­ing side of the dig­i­tal revo­lu­tion. For most Amer­i­cans, the rise of new voices and new sources of in­for­ma­tion avail­able when­ever they want it is a great step for­ward.

For jour­nal­ists, though, it has been a dis­as­ter. News­pa­pers, TV sta­tion au­di­ences and jobs are all dis­ap­pear­ing. This has a ma­jor im­pact on their world­view. In any in­dus­try, peo­ple who work at firms that are lay­ing peo­ple off tend to be­lieve the econ­omy is strug­gling. Those who work at firms that are hir­ing tend to be­lieve the econ­omy is do­ing bet­ter.

So, for es­tab­lished jour­nal­ists, the per­cep­tion of the dig­i­tal revo­lu­tion is clouded by the fact that it de­stroyed their way of life. They see neg­a­tives more than pos­i­tives, and their re­port­ing re­flects this. Like an un­happy per­son who makes ev­ery­one around them mis­er­able, jour­nal­ists are spread­ing pes­simism.

Im­por­tantly, the loss felt by jour­nal­ists is about more than money. It’s a loss of in­flu­ence and pres­tige. Be­fore the dig­i­tal era, TV an­chors and big-time news­pa­per re­porters had a mo­nop­oly over news cov­er­age that could not be chal­lenged. Al­ter­na­tive views could not be heard, even when the jour­nal­ists were wrong.

That came to an end just over a de- cade ago when Dan Rather re­ported a hit piece on Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush based upon fraud­u­lent doc­u­ments. Be­fore the dig­i­tal era, that story would likely have sur­vived and might have even al­tered the 2004 elec­tion.

But in the new era, tra­di­tional jour­nal­ists were no longer the only game in town. Blog­gers did the fact-check­ing that CBS had failed to do. Even­tu­ally, the net­work had to pull the story and Rather was pushed out of the an­chor chair. The le­gacy me­dia out­lets had lost their mo­nop­oly, and elite jour­nal­ists have never re­cov­ered from the shock.

When the his­tory of this era is writ­ten, this me­dia tran­si­tion will be hailed as a great suc­cess. Blog­gers and the early cit­i­zen jour­nal­ists will be seen as key play­ers in break­ing down priv­i­leged mo­nop­o­lies to de­moc­ra­tize the news. The in­creased shar­ing of mul­ti­ple per­spec­tives and com­mu­nity vet­ting of sto­ries will be seen as a great ser­vice to the na­tion.

That doesn’t make it any eas­ier for tra­di­tional jour­nal­ists. But it’s a rea­son for the rest of us to be more op­ti­mistic.

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