The danger of the state of journalism

I’m normally an optimist, but I’m finding it difficult to be upbeat today. Yesterday I learned that many former colleagues of mine are among those

Danger Sign

Danger Sign

with 10-day furloughs and pension freezes as Advance Publications attempts to help the bottom line, and also that Gannett journalists I know are facing their second furlough for the same reasons.

Today I read that Janice Okun is retiring from the Buffalo News on March 31, the same day the Buffalo News had previously reported those accepting buyouts would have to be off the payroll. Thirty-six members of the Buffalo Newspaper Guild (not all editorial) took that offer. (Okun will continue writing reviews as a freelancer, but will no longer be a staffer.)

I couldn’t help thinking about all this when, in my media law class, we were talking about the importance of  Freedom of Information Act and state Freedom of Information Laws. Students brought in examples of stories where government records were used.

Among them was this gem:

The city of Auburn would not release the names of two employees who took equipment until two newspapers — The Post-Standard and The Auburn Citizen–filed a notice that they intended to sue the city for the names.

My question is, with journalists working fewer hours (if at all), who is going to do these stories? Who is going to find out about this stuff?

I know some new media types say citizen journalists or bloggers will do it. Really? In a small city like Buffalo, Rochester or Syracuse someone who works a paying job is going to have time to file foia/foil requests and hold public officials accountable?

And please don’t tell me TV and radio journalists will do it. Government record stories don’t have exciting visuals, and TV and radio journalism staffs are cut to the bone, too.

This newspaper crisis has far deeper implications than what happens to journalists. It’s about what happens to our society.

As Francis Bacon said, “Knowledge is power.” But let’s face it:  We are losing a major conduit to that power.

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