Newspaper (http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1102355)For those who care deeply about the future of journalism, the phone-hacking scandal could hardly have been less well timed. Professional journalism’s survival is threatened by the economic impact of digital technologies. The plurality and diversity of voice upon which representative democracy depends is in jeopardy. Needed urgently is debate about how well-resourced, professional news gathering can be sustained. Instead, tired 20th-century concerns about the ethics and ownership of popular newspapers are diverting attention from critical 21st-century realities.

The alleged hacking of Milly Dowler’s mobile telephone generated a moral panic that was seized upon instantly by a curious alliance of elite establishment and left-progressive opinion. At the same time, it diverted attention from a crucial debate that was beginning to gather momentum. That discussion, about whether professionally edited, fact-based journalism can continue to play the role of an estate, not just an industry, in the multimedia age will remain important after those responsible for phone hacking have been identified and punished.

There is a crisis in journalism that has nothing to do with hacking and relates directly to the conduct of public affairs. It started with recognition that the internet has weakened the authority of large-scale professional media organisations and progressed to predictions that the web will destroy it. Many thinkers in the field of journalism and media studies believe this and find the notion irresistible. They burble with delight at the possibility that the power of big media may be shattered by what laymen call blogging and they grace it with the oxymoronic title “citizen journalism”.

The essential difference between the two deserves definition. It is that much blogging is an amateur activity carried out by people with no understanding of journalism’s social purpose who operate with scant regard for facts. Like the activists who, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, published illegal newspapers seething with radical ideology and revolutionary zeal, they prefer opinion to evidence. Liberated by broadband from a free market in which their ideas have no traction because too few find them interesting, they bleat – and tweet – wild rumours, half-truths and conspiracies.

Read full story, which is largely an attack upon the ‘dumbing down’ of the press through the use of social networking… take this quote:

Citizens intrigued by events check in on Twitter and other social networking sites. But once alerted, many follow links to reliable news sites such as BBC News Online and newspaper sites.

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