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Making sense of media: It’s not time for death knells

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As part of his Ender series, author Orson Scott Card titled one book Speaker for the Dead. Ender, a child who had vanquished an alien threat to humanity, left Earth and spent time speaking for the dead, talking of people’s  lives, their hopes and fears, their successes and their failures.

Although some would currently argue otherwise, Ender could not yet speak about the death of journalism, especially as it concerns print media.

Journalism is not, and will not be, dead. Print is not, and will not be, dead.

Morphed, mutated and changed: maybe.

And, because of these potential changes, we need to speak about –and guide – students through its transformation by making sense of that process and keep the best standards of the fourth estate, or legacy journalism, alive.

One way to make sense of the changes media are undergoing would be to follow Poynter’s Making Sense Project. That’s easy enough to do by going to the Kent State Poynter Next Ethics site, clicking on Today’s Archives and then clicking on Kelly McBridge’s nearly hour-long session. Questions raised, ethical and political, are well worth your time.

Some points McBride made in her session:
• We are finding a lot of new players in media and they don’t always have the same sense of traditional values we do.
• The lines between journalism and the rest of media are very, very blurry. Jon Stewart is a classic example as a news source to a whole generation. The “rest of the media” includes infotainment and a growing “fifth estate” which encompasses new, social and citizen media.
• We are no longer able to trust that information itself will abide by any sense of standards.
• Citizens are going to need a new set of skills regarding information just to be participating members in a democracy, consuming as well as creating information.

For example, under the heading of  “why are we so worried” about changes in the ways people access information, McBride cited Sarah Palin’s Facebook page as an example of fifth estate media that requires special skills people would need to understand.

She said the Palin site is “very well managed” so those who go there receive highly controlled and laundered information and views, nothing controversial or opposite of her views, according to information gathered by Slate. “People who get information from Sarah Palin’s Facebook site have a very distorted understanding of who they are as a group,” McBride said, “because the information is managed. It’s not the information Sarah puts out; it’s this community and how they understand themselves that’s been massaged to fit some of the political agenda Sarah Palin has. It’s distortion, if not outright deception.”

The Making Sense presentation raises important issues and questions worth our consideration, and classroom time for discussion.

While the existing business model of print journalism fades and changes, traditional journalistic principles need to live as the base for continued legacy media and new media for the future – not only as used by its practioners but for its consumers.

In that way we will not speak of the death of journalism. We will participate in its adaptation.

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