Journalists warn about the future of their profession

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(From left to right) Brian O’Donaghue, Adam Tanner, Tom Hewitt and Dermot Cole address the audience during the lecture “Accessing Credible Information in the Age of Information Overload” at the Raven Landing Center on Wednesday, April 5. Tauseef Mahmood/Staff Photographer Photo credit: Tauseef Mahmood

In the present era of clickbait and fake news, four journalists convened at Raven Landing Center to discuss the future of the press in the ever-changing landscape of news media.

The talk, titled “Accessing Credible Information in the Age of Information Overload” was the second of a pair of speeches about the role of the press.

“We need serious credible news organizations delivering the news where it’s most broadly consumed. And that takes digital delivery,” panelist Brian O’Donoghue said.

The panel was made up of Alaska Dispatch News columnist Dermot Cole, UAF Snedden Chair and journalist Adam Tanner, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner opinion editor Tom Hewitt and O’Donoghue, an associate journalism professor.

“All the elements that existed of the work that I was doing at the News-Miner 40 years ago—almost every aspect has changed,” Cole said. “The technology has changed that much, except for it’s still ink on paper, and the basics of reporting are still the same—which is gather information, assess it, and report it.”

Cole also warned against reporting information from unreliable sources.

“Unfortunately … we have too much reporting that consists of writing down whatever Mr. X says,” Cole added, “as if everything Mr. X says makes perfect sense and is accurate.”

The panelists discussed the collapse of support for traditional newsrooms, the internet’s effect on news, changes in international reporting and how readers can tell the difference between reputable sources and false information.

Hewitt addressed the recent influx of non-credible news sources.

“There’s been a real upswing in falsified, intentionally misleading content,” Hewitt said. “[It] makes it very difficult for people who are looking for information to tell what’s good from what’s bad without having some kind of screening mechanism.”

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Photo credit: Tauseef Mahmood

O’Donoghue suggested news organizations fail to engage readers with subscriptions.

“We’ve raised a generation that is apparently willing to ante up for music and streaming entertainment, that relies on news being essentially free,” O’Donoghue said.

“Local newsrooms may well disappear in the future, replaced by community, Facebook-style, crowd-generated content with all the inevitable carelessness or calculated misrepresentations that goes along with it,” he added.

Hewitt agreed with O’Donoghue, citing his own experiences with his peers.

“I’m not exaggerating when I say I’d be surprised if more than ten percent of people my age pay for any news content whatsoever, at all,” Hewitt said. “If it’s something you value, it needs to be something you support.”

Tanner said he felt a mixture of optimism and pessimism when regarding the future of the trade.

“You need to understand the world in order to make sense of what’s going on here,” Tanner said. “We have less of that from our own reporters, so you have to do more of a job to curate this information yourself and find out what is going on in the world.”

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