Morley Safer Doesn’t Trust Citizen Journalism

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May 21, 20099

Veteran newsman and 60 Minutes correspondent, Morley Safer, just won the Fred Friendly First Amendment Award from Quinnipiac University’s School of Communications. His long and distinguished career certainly justifies receiving this honor. It’s too bad he had to spoil the ceremony with the crotchety old man impression that he must have picked up from Andy Rooney.

In an attempt to address his concern for the withering state of newspapers, Safer warned that the medium’s decline “threatens all of journalism and, by extension, our precarious right to know.” He stated his belief that newspapers provide the source material for stories presented in other mediums. There is a case to be made for these assertions, but he went too far when he attacked new media, characterizing it as crammed with nuts:

“The blogosphere is no alternative, crammed as it is with the ravings and manipulations of every nut with a keyboard. Good journalism is structured and structure means responsibility,” he said. He added later, “…I would trust citizen journalism as much as I would trust citizen surgery.”

[efoods]If Safer is really concerned with responsibility, he ought not to lash out indiscriminately at online journalism. If he wants to cast a net around “every nut with a keyboard,” and label them all journalists, then I should be able to do the same with his medium and every nut with a microphone.

Surely there are manipulative ravers on the Internet, but they could hardly be called journalists. The same is true with television and newspapers. Josh Marshall (a reporter of proven reliability) and Michelle Malkin (a purveyor of bias and propaganda), are two completely different species. Credible and principled Internet journalists would cringe at the thought of being associated with likes of Matt Drudge. Would Safer fare any better by being lumped together with Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck? Does Safer think that Ann Coulter brings honor to the newspapers who carry her column? Does he think that the National Enquirer or the New York Post are structured and responsible? If Safer wants to draw parallels between online reporters with their old media equivalents, he should not be making apples to idiots comparisons.

It would also be helpful if Safer refrained from disparaging the public at large. Safer’s analogy to “citizen surgery” carries an insulting implication that “citizen” equates to “unqualified.” Many citizens are quite capable of producing good journalism. And, perhaps to Safer’s surprise, some journalists are, in fact, good citizens. The two designations are not mutually exclusive. A better analogy might compare a modern surgeon with an old-school sawbones who refused to use an MRI or other advanced technologies. I expect that most people would prefer the modern surgeon. And as it turns out, most people prefer new media, as demonstrated in this poll:

* 67% believe traditional journalism is out of touch with what Americans want from their news.
* 32% said Internet sites are their most trusted source for news and information, followed by newspapers (22%), television (21%) and radio (15%).
* 75% believe the Internet has had a positive impact on the overall quality of journalism.
* 69% believe media companies are becoming too large and powerful to allow for competition.

There is a notable irony in that Safer would level these criticisms while accepting an award honoring the First Amendment. A true advocate for a free press would welcome more public participation, not less. After all, what could be more representative of free expression, and a free press, then citizen journalism?

This article was posted: Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 8:42 pm







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