Alex Jones Speaks at Emerson College on the Future of Journalism

October 10, 2009

By Rebecca Ballard

“The way we change the world is by telling the truth,” said Alex Jones, a veteran reporter, early on during his speech on the future of journalism. It was a statement that carried on through the rest of what he had to say.

Jones explained that it was the ability for businesses to be able to exist and make a profit from news that had allowed the free press to come about. The old economic model, he said, was one in which companies paid for advertisement space and people paid for the news. Newspapers on serious and important subjects were not what the people were interested in, but with them came the comic strips, the crossword puzzles, and the celebrity stories.

The purchase by the people of such entertainment news, in addition to the corporate purchases of advertisement space, supported the newspapers in their reporting on and printing of real news. However, Jones pointed out, the digital revolution caused the old economic model to fail—with the arrival of the internet, it became possible for people to publish anything they wanted anywhere at any time.

With this, the traditional news began to struggle. The web, Jones stated, valued speed over accuracy, edge and voice over fairness, and above all else, entertainment. “The web can do journalism more brilliantly with more depth and elements,” he said, but it “can also create more confusion, more lies, and more hatred.”

Jones explained that he thought the internet had vast potential, and that bloggers could do great things, but that at the same time journalists were still very necessary. He then went on to point out that in Iraq, it had been reporters who swung people’s opinions about the war. The Bush administration had given the people lies, Jones said, and then the reporters had given the people truth. Bloggers would not be capable of this because the reporters had the funding from the papers to go to Iraq and to do the stories, as well as to risk their lives to get them.

After making the case for journalism, Jones then went on to explain just what needs to be done to preserve it. “Saving the business is not enough,” Jones stated, “because just saving the business will not do the thing journalism has been so remarkably able to do.” What also needed to be saved, he argued, were the ethics of journalism, the most important of which being objectivity.

Objectivity, Jones said, is not about the perfect truth, nor is it about the reporters themselves being objective; it is that the methods of their reporting are objective. Being objective, he said, was the one thing that could get people to change their minds, because objective journalism cuts both ways and gives a reporter credibility.

Jones said that somehow, some way, the values of journalism and its search for truth had to be preserved. When asked what could be done about the fact that people often simply were not interested in so-called “bad news” he responded that the people wanted the powers observed and kept in check even if they didn’t want to take the time to do it personally. He pointed out that the first amendment was a fragile thing, even though it was often not thought of that way, and that the values now associated it had only come about relatively recently.

While Jones emphasized that he couldn’t know where the future of journalism was headed, he did give his own prediction. The culture of the web, Jones said, would split into two segments.

The first would be composed of news organizations such as the New York Times and the Washington Post, who would continue to report real news. The second would be composed of other news organizations who saw reporting more as a game, focusing on whatever they believed would provide entertainment for the people. The internet would also allow for some people to ignore the news entirely and live in their own alternate realities.

Along with this the papers would possibly become more dependant on one or two foundations, rather than multiple corporations, which he pointed out could become a dangerous thing. Foundations have points of view he said, and could potentially bend newspapers to their will over these issues. “If you lose your enterprise, you lose everything,” Alex Jones said. “If you become a whore, someone who can be intimidated, you lose your soul.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: