You’re asking the wrong question

Last week’s issue of SEE Magazine was a “theme” issue, focusing on the future of the media industry (“print in peril”). In addition to this interesting article, there was a panel comprised of four local newspeople with lots of experience: Linda Hughes (U of A, formerly Edmonton Journal), Ron Wilson (CBC), Jeremy Lye (iNews880), and Roy Wood (MacEwan, formerly Edmonton Journal). They discussed a range of things, including the fact that the industry didn’t develop these problems overnight. The general consensus is that journalism is important, but what it looks like in the future is up in the air.

Of course, you can’t have an article on the future of media without asking who’s going to write about City Council, and the panel didn’t disappoint! Linda Hughes asks:

But with breaking news and local-level news, who is going to go sit in a courtroom all day for a three-paragraph story that is important to know about but isn’t sexy and is just part of the pubic discourse? Who is going to do that? Bloggers often provide a lot of insight, but most bloggers are not going to go to sit in city council committee meetings for five hours to keep track of what city council is doing.

Ask a sports writer about the future of news and he’ll probably use this defense, even though he never sets foot inside City Hall! It’s the easy way out, and it’s an incredibly common response lately from journalists in the hot seat. To make things worse, SEE asked the question again later in the piece:

If newspapers and mass media outlets do dwindle, then, who will be the watchdogs in society to ensure politicians don’t run wild? Who will pay for the investigative reporters who can zero in on one thing for months and all of a sudden have the biggest story of the year?

Sigh. There will still be passionate individuals who follow specific topics and do investigative reporting. Probably more now than ever thanks to easy publishing systems (blogs, wikis, Twitter, etc). And they’ll produce much more interesting content than someone who does it just because they get paid to.

Let’s ignore that argument for a minute, however. Asking how to pay a journalist to sit through meetings to get three paragraphs is still the wrong question!

The real question is, why have we ever had to pay someone to sit through five hours of City Council committee meetings? Let’s get rid of that absurd need altogether and this discussion becomes irrelevant.

This is why I’m so excited about ChangeCamp and the possibilities it represents. If we can change the way our government communicates with us, the need for a newspaper filter could go away altogether.

Let’s focus less on how we’re going to pay a journalist to sit with Council all day and more on how we can get Council to communicate with us in a meaningful way. If we can do that, the journalist will have much better things to cover!