Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Can Journalism Survive? an Inside Look at American Newsrooms

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Can Journalism Survive? an Inside Look at American Newsrooms

Article excerpt

Can Journalism Survive? An Inside Look at American Newsrooms. By David M. Ryfe. Polity, 256pp, Pounds 55.00 and Pounds 17.99. ISBN 9780745654270 and 54287. Published 3 August 2012.

We're witnessing either the end of journalism or the birth of a golden age - depending on your point of view, or more likely depending on whether or not you are a journalist. This is the key theme of this fascinating study by David Ryfe, who takes what appears to be his disadvantageous position of being a journalism academic who has never been a journalist and turns it to good advantage.

After several years teaching journalism courses, Ryfe decided it was time he "got his hands dirty", or at least watched others getting their hands dirty, by undertaking an ethnographic study of the newsrooms of three local daily newspapers. There he didn't just watch and note but also reported on press conferences, wrote up news releases and got bawled at by angry news editors.

What emerges from his work are three differing accounts of how US newspapers, all in economic decline, have sought to come to terms with the impact of the internet and social media on both the economics of the papers and the daily news routines of their journalists. It all makes for fascinating but depressing reading: nothing that the newspapers tried seemed able to arrest what appeared to be an inevitable, internet-hastened decline.

Unlike many media academics who have never worked in journalism, Ryfe displays neither the innate hostility of those who see journalists as the handmaidens of the Establishment, nor the open-mouthed admiration of those who see all hacks as Woodwards and Bernsteins.

As interesting as Ryfe's ethnographic observations of the daily routines are, the most important and arresting part of the book comes in the last few pages, where he turns to the future (or indeed the present) and asks: where do we now stand? Is this the end of an era? Is the very existence of journalism as we have known it now imperilled? Or is this the dawn of a golden age of internet-driven citizen engagement, "one in which citizens play a more active role in public problem-solving"?

Ryfe offers compelling evidence that the success of new forms of public interaction - social media, blogs, crowdsourcing, data mining, etc - can, and are, mobilising local communities in the interests of greater transparency and accountability. …

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