Monday, March 30, 2009

Atlanta Unfiltered Response

If the future of serious journalism is independent Web sites, then we're in trouble.

First of all, newsrooms should be doing investigative journalism. But layoffs and consolidation have created a tough environment that makes it hard for journalists to do their jobs. I think the business mindset of the newsroom is more to blame than the economy. It's a regrettable situation, and it needs to be fixed.

Secondly, an independent website does not have nearly the same clout as an established news organization. Anyone can publish anything on the Web. Jim Walls may have great credentials, but how does the casual browser tell the difference between a sham site and a legitimate one? People often glance at a website and gauge its credibility based on how professional the design is and who the sponsoring organization is.

Also, the Web may be world wide, but it still has limited reach. Newspapers are affordable and widely available. Internet access is not. Residential internet service is a luxury, and many people do not have internet access at home or at work. A 35 or 50 cent newspaper is easier to get than an open computer at the local library.

This is not to say that there shouldn't be watchdog sites on the internet, but it is especially hard online to tell what is trustworthy information and what is not. These sites will have to build credibility with readers, just as traditional news organizations have. And hopefully, traditional newsrooms can regain some of the credibility they've lost with layoffs. Society needs its watchdogs. Letting public officials operate without oversight is certainly not an option.

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