By Stein, M. L.
Editor & Publisher , Vol. 125, No. 18
Electronic delivery of news and information will be routine in the 21st century but far more significant shifts will occur in content, a French media scholar predicted at a University of Missouri conference on the future of the industry.
At the same time, the speaker, Claude-Jean Bertrand, professor of American Civilization at the University of Paris, took a few swipes at U.S. journalism today and its ethical underpinnings.
Bertrand, a long-time observer and critic of the U.S. press, said 50 years from now there will be few or no daily newspapers in their present format. Instead, news packages produced by journalists will be tailored by computer to meet the particular needs of every subscriber at any time.
Moreover, he went on, television or radio newscasts will not be squeezed between entertainment broadcasts. People will rely on all-news radio, a CNN-type of continuous service and-or audio and visual data banks where they can get news and information on order.
However, it is in the nature of news that the most dramatic changes will occur, Bertrand said at the "Journalism 2008" gathering sponsored by the university's School of Journalism.
"Quality media will have forsaken their traditional prejudices, taboos and sacred cows -- those of the media owners, advertisers, and young white males," he forecast.
"Back in the old days," he said, projecting his audience to 2042, "A union or strike in the U.S. was rarely mentioned in positive language, Department of Defense scandals got little regular coverage, the French media seldom dealt with the true cost of alcoholism, and all Western media ignored tropical diseases that killed far more people than AIDS."
Also in 50 years, Bertrand said, media will distinguish more sharply between entertaining and significant news. London's sensational tabloids, for example, will no longer be called newspapers.
"It's been very difficult to convert journalists to a new plural definition of their function and to make them admit that consumers treat much news as nothing but entertainment," he elaborated. "Many French people, for instance, enjoyed the Gulf war as a lavish, thrilling, spectacular movie produced, more or less, by the same guys who do the other Hollywood blockbusters."
In the broad sense, Bertrand continued, the media in 2042 will deal with news not as a "mosaic of silly little events," but in terms of information about the whole world and how individuals and nations fit into the complete picture.
Even purely local stories, he said, will be presented in the context of their relationship to the general society, a trend already under way by the newsmagazines. Crime, as one example will be more strongly linked to alcoholism, drugs, unemployment, loose psychiatric supervision, or easy access to guns.
Bertrand sees a 21st century in which the media provide more information than hard news -- information that is "outside the limelight, below the surface, that seeks unpublicized phenomena, deep trends and changes before they emerge as major problems, sometimes as disasters."
With such reporting in the 20th century, he contended, newspapers might have foreseen the Soviet Union's political and economic collapse. And, if the French press in the 1970s had investigated African and North African ghettos, today's crime, riots, and the emergence of a fascist party might have been prevented, Bertrand suggested.
Science and technology developments will get regular coverage instead of the current "old-fashioned, trickle-down process from academic journal to local daily," Bertrand also prophesied. He envisioned newspapers publishing daily "clear and stimulating" syndicated columns or pages in one or several fields of science and technology.
Finally, Bertrand said, media, instead of yielding to traditional pressure groups such as the National Rifle Association and "champions of political correctness" in the United States, and the Catholic Church in Latin countries, will encourage discussion of controversial topics with the participation of all kinds of minority groups, "even those obnoxious to the majority. …