Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

September 29, 2013

The changing face of journalism


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — When we open our newspaper, turn on our TV, tune in the radio or go to the Internet, can we believe what is being reported to us? Unfortunately throughout the history of the Fourth Estate there has been skepticism and we in the field have sometimes been put on the same level as snake-oil salesmen.

Many reporters of years past were journalism or English majors in college, or they trained as a “cub” reporter, working their way up through the ranks hoping someday to get their own byline. It was not easy and you had to pay your dues.

I have been in journalism for the better part of 30 years. I have worked in television, radio, for a U.S. Congressman, for a news service and with newspapers.

As a youth I chose a career where I could provide people with information. It was a profession in which you checked your facts, did due diligence and reported through a credible outlet, be it a print or broadcast medium, to the masses. It was, as Jack Webb used to say on “Dragnet,” “Just the facts ma’am.” If it were your opinion it was clearly tagged as a commentary.

Much has changed in the world of journalism since I graduated from the Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism at West Virginia University, especially credibility.

In this day of bloggers, Twitter, Facebook and instant messaging, anyone can and does call themselves journalists without being attached to a bona fide news organization or having attained credibility by virtue of their work.

There was a time when information we received could be trusted by the mere fact that the reputation of the producing organization was on the line.

I am not against public expression of opinion. That is deeply rooted in American society and law. However, when commentary and entertainment are passed on as news, it is not journalism.

I love the TV commercial where the young lady speaks of her boyfriend she met on the Internet who claims to be a French model. He walks up, is obviously not French, nor a model and says “Uh, bonjour.” The essence of that commercial is what I am saying, don’t believe everything you see on the Web.

The Internet is a wonderful tool to obtain information and a platform for information to be shared. We must, however, be mindful of the source of that information.

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I was thinking of other changes in the profession since I entered. Computers were non-existent. Newspaper layout was done by cutting and pasting. Photos were black and white and had to be developed in the darkroom except for those that came from UPI or the AP. Today Eric DiNovo and Jon Bolt can transmit digital photos to our desks directly from a breaking news event.

USA Today was the first paper to use color photographs and all the experts in 1982 called it McPaper and said it would never last. Today there is not a newspaper in the country that has not emulated the USA Today style in some form or fashion.

In radio I used a bulky cassette recorder and went back to the studio, transferred it to reel-to-reel and spliced it for newscasts which were then recorded on reel-to-reel tape or a cart — a tape that resembled an eight-track cassette that played on a continuous loop.

Now recordings are digital, edited on a computer and programmed to play without a board operator having to do anything. The same goes for music. The needle is no longer dropped on a record, but a touch of a screen plays the next hit over the air.

Television copy was typed on three-part carbons on a manual typewriter. Once we did get a teleprompter we typed the on-air stories on a long scroll that was then rolled onto the prompter.

Press releases from the Congressman’s office were typed on a PC, printed and copies were made and envelopes stuffed, sent out to media outlets in the district via the post office. For breaking news there would be a phone call and possible dictation of the press release as few newspapers had fax machines at that time, and the Internet? It was still about a decade away from widespread use.

Speaking of faxes, the first fax machine I ever used took about five minutes to either send or receive one page and it was grainer than a pound of fiber in a pint of water.

The biggest change in my opinion, however, is the advent of the 24-hour news cycle. Thirty years ago CNN was just coming on the scene with all news, all the time. Since then it has exploded and not just on cable TV.

In the newspaper world today we constantly update our website, and Facebook pages and send tweets. No longer do our readers have to wait for the paper to arrive on their stoops each morning to see what is happening in the community, state and world.

Newspapers will continue to change and just as what we have today is different from the product 50 years ago, the product in 2063 will be much more different than what we have now.

Journalism is an ever-changing field and it will continue to evolve as the years come and go. But one thing that must remain the same is the core mission of any journalistic endeavor and that is to report the facts.

Bob Redd is a sports writer for the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at bredd@bdtonline.com.