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Our Fourth Estate is Under Attack

As a former journalist and mass media pro for nearly three decades, the crumbling state of professional journalism is alarming. The press is our fourh estate, an independent societal and political force that provides a check and balance against corporate and polititcal entities that don't always have the people's best interests in mind. Sadly, newsrooms across the country have been decimated and undermined by an evolving media landscape that doesn't monetarily value pure journalistic content that's curated by writers, editors, columinists and producers of an older, noble guard.

War journalism - web.jpg

Multiple forces are lining up to destroy the Fourth Estate as we know it

Some of the recent blows to the old guard include news of more layoffs at the venerable Wall Street Journal, the rise of new media conglomerates like Buzzfeed that blur lines between editorial and advertising, more longtime editors and bloggers "going to the dark side" by joining in-house corporate media organizations, and Facebook's intent to de-couple major media organizations' direct connection and syndication of content from readers and viewers. None of this bodes well for the future of journalism, a pillar of democracy in the U.S. and a force of good around the world.

Last summer, the American Journalism Review reported that enrollment in journalism schools across the country had dropped for two years in a row, based on a research study by the University of Georgia, raising more questions about the future of journalism in the U.S. Some enrollment declines and colleges and universities were as steep as 33 percent. At issue is concern from students about whether they'll be able to find employment and if they can make enough money. Based on continued trends of media organization layoffs and low pay for journalists, these concerns are well-founded. Advertising and public relations continue to grow in enrollment, according to the study.

Unless a new model for journalism emerges - such as nonprofit journalism experiments like San Francisco's The Bay Citizen that I helped launch and promote in 2010 - the prospects for our fourth estate look quite dim. The Bay Citizen was part of a small, but growing number of similar news organizations across the country dedicated to locally focused public journalism, including the Voice of San Diego, Texas Tribune and MinnPost. However, The Bay Citizen ceased to operate and publish as its own entity in 2013 and has been absorbed by the Center for Investigative Reporting. Like advertising revenue and subsriber support, public funding for news organizations is hard to come by.

One can only hope that pure journalism and professionally curated editorial content will survive in some form despite a long and crushing assault. That some glimmer of hope still exists as the rockets' red glare and the bombs bursting in air continue to attack a venerable and much-needed institution that our country's democratic values are built on.

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