07 June 2009

Anticipatory Journalism

Events are moving fast enough, we need journalism that reports the future.

Commentary is useful because it goes beyond what is happening to report on what should or could happen. Done well, it is more thoughtful than mere reporting. Before saying what could be, I'd like to point out what seems to be the problem with most commentary.

I've wearied of Keith Olbermann. He's become like Rush Limbaugh - rushing to point out all that is wrong about the right. Someone like Fareed Zakaria, a Newsweek regular, shows himself more thoughtful, global, and insightful, but he's merely doing with less venom what Olbermann does - making judgments about policy and politicians.

What seems missing is a vision of the future. What if journalism transcended reporting on past events - looking in the rear view mirror - and instead projected news into the future? Better yet, what if it actually compared this with some vision of the future?

This would more firmly take us into the region of partisan journalism. But it would force journalism into a really valuable role. Two things are true of today's world: events are rapidly developing and the stakes for getting policy right or wrong are huge.

If we had different periodicals or TV stations or newspapers offer different coherent views of the future, they be more readily able to interpret events. Christian fundamentalist news outlets do this best, of course - judging events by end time prophecies and warnings of immorality. But it is time to do this for more secular views.

What if one periodical predicted a future of environmental sustainability with an emphasis on change in lifestyle? Local produce, use of alternative energy, and living close to work could be among the solutions seen as instrumental to a vibrant and healthy future and policies and events could be interpreted through this view of the future. Another periodical might predict a future of sustainability through technological solutions, another (the one Dick Cheney might edit) would predict a future of scarcity and the need for the haves to protect themselves from the clamoring have nots, etc.

Such an emphasis would do at least two things. One, it would give us a good filter through which to judge policy. We'd have a consistent basis for judgment. Two, it would force different communities to elaborate on and defend the desirability and reasonableness of their view of the future. Because in truth, if you don't have some sense of the future, you have no basis for judging current events.

For too long, journalism has pretended to be objective, as if the context for reporting and judging events doesn't determine everything from the tone in which it'll be reported to even deciding what should be reported.

But most importantly, we need to create a nationwide conversation about the future we're creating and the future we ought to create. As different news outlets compete for market share using this model, they would essentially be competing for visions of the future. The winner in this competition would not just win market share: it would gain influence over policy and vision and become the forum through which we define our future. Now that would be valuable journalism.

1 comment:

Big Al said...

Ron,

Your suggestion of having journalism potentially predict the future or given a vision of the future scares me. Whereas we have a few journalists like Newsweek's Zakaria, I see, unfortunately, what appears to be an overabundance of those like Olbermann. We already have too many in the media reporting the news in a sensationalist manner attempting to be outshine the news they're reporting. In truth, it's only local news personnel I view as reporting objectively without attempting to hog the spotlight. There's one gent in particular who is a street reporter for a local morning news program, and this guy is great in the field in that he very simply reports the news. No fanfare. No wild arm waving. No piercing look into the camera. No voice emotional roller coaster. Just the news.