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May 2, 2013

NEAL: Journalists still make a difference

(Continued)

In some countries, the media has no such power. Ask Jack Ronald, whose commitment to a free press has taken him to 11 emerging democracies, from Belarus to Afghanistan, where he has worked with journalists trying to make the transition from state-censored to free press. One former Soviet country deported him.

Tash is concluding a stint on the Pulitzer Prize Board, which each year selects the best in American journalism for honors. The experience has convinced Tash that “there is still a lot of extraordinary work going on in journalism today.”

“The winners of Pulitzer Prizes this year took down Apple, Walmart ... and the government of China,” he said.

Among the Pulitzer winners announced April 15: Two New York Times reporters who uncovered how Walmart bribed Mexican officials to get permission to build stores in their country. Another wrote of a “Red Nobility” in China made up of relatives of top government officials who were making fortunes in businesses tied to the government. The Times staff won the explanatory reporting award for exposing the darker side of business practices of Apple Inc. and other technology companies.

These are the kinds of stories that continue to inspire reporters even as their industry struggles through bankruptcies, drops in circulation and competition from new media forms.  In the past five years, newspaper have lost 50 percent of advertising revenues, Tash noted before predicting, “I actually think better days are ahead.”

His forecast is more optimistic than that of CareerCast.com, whose survey earlier in the week ranked newspaper reporter lowest out of 200 jobs based on “physical demands, work environment, income, stress and hiring outlook.”

“A job that has lost its luster dramatically over the past five years is expected to plummet even further by 2020,” the researchers said. The report cited media consultant Paul Gillin’s prediction that newspapers will die out, probably “within the next 10 years.”

The profession has changed, and perhaps the print version will one day be obsolete, but the six new Hall of Famers remind us why journalism remains the noble profession and why we should hope – to paraphrase Mark Twain – that reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated.

 

— Andrea Neal is adjunct scholar and columnist with the Indiana Policy Review Foundation.

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