A farewell to journalism as we knew it
Consider this an epitaph.
Sure, I’m not exactly six feet under. And sure, I’m not slowly eroding away, unless old age counts for anything. Luckily or not, I’m still among the living, grunting and gurgling and grumbling my way along as if no day were different than the last. Yet these words, fickle as they may be, are indeed my last. Believe it. For these are the last words of a dying art.
This used to be special. All of it. From news to opinions to sports, journalism used to be the hub where creative minds met and coalesced. People, with little more than an insatiable yearning to write, flocked to poorly lit basements in an attempt to answer journalism’s call. With cold coffee replacing the blood in their arteries and teeth-shattering, stale bagels comprising their only form of sustenance, they wrote not simply for themselves, but for others as well.
In its truest form, journalism was a characterization of the world, and the journalists were its chroniclers. They penned history rather than making it themselves.
They played with fonts and the infinite breathlessness of white space when others wouldn’t. They were the Dostoevskys, the Kafkas and all the other literary juggernauts sandwiched into newsprint. In a sentence, they defined their time because they wrote about it exclusively.
Maybe that’s a bit overdramatic, but at a sacrifice of their sanity and sleep, they tried to change the world one column at a time. With each article, they hoped to get the facts out. They assumed that by offering objective criticism of society, they’d be highlighting its faults, all the while celebrating society’s mechanism that allows recognition of them. Most of all, they just wanted people to care.
But after tirelessly combing newspaper archives and looking at the names of people past and present, people who dreamt that the words etched into paper were instead carved into stone, people who aren’t remembered today, they – like I – realize that optimism got the better of them.
Perhaps that’s the problem: people expect too much. Journalists, like the people who read their articles, are crushed under the gravity of this actuality. For not only do the readers expect entertainment, they expect the truth, and often times there is little overlap between the two.
In this world, there is a reality of life, with its unforgiving disappointments and unparalleled radiance mixed together so eerily, and then there’s the reality of journalism.
Don’t let the columns fool you. The two are not the same. Unlike the font on this page, the world isn’t black or white. It’s gray. And often times, you can’t tell the heroes from the villains. And when you can, you are imposing your own judgments on a scenario you weren’t meant to judge.
You flash verbal pyrotechnics here, a joke there. Then you forget why you even started writing in the first place and so you begin to write about something cheap, something easy, all the while forgetting about the hard-hitting articles that you spent days on, wondering if you should insert a comma here, or here, or even here.
This is the progression of the death of journalism. Look at any magazine, tabloid or newsprint, and you’ll see the same. Stories of petty crimes, celebrity news, and advertisements – all of it pour over on the front page like flies to a carcass.
Perhaps it’s because of the ebb of eventuality. Perhaps even more truthfully, without the ability to discern between that which is ambiguous and that which is true, journalism was always meant to fail. In absence of clairvoyance, people rush to something concrete, something they can hold, taste and feel. They do not like being confused. They like something they can root for – something easy on the eyes and minds. We are simple-minded creatures, and despite the four billion years of evolution, we fail to act the part.
So in our search for simplicity, we decide the complex is really too complex and sometimes it’s better not to ask why, but how instead. And even then, that may be too much. That is why, in the ugly aftermath of journalism’s decline, when the smoke has settled and the fires abate, journalism reduces itself into this. It is everything below and everything above. It is riddled with clichés, cheap tricks and tactless graphics to gain attention. The graphic on the previous page for this article is evidence of that enough. So is the article itself. For if you need any evidence of the death of journalism, look no further than this sentence.