There is hardly a more fitting figure to trumpet Old Media's fear of Internet-powered citizen journalism than Helen Thomas. The 89-year-old reporter has covered every president since Jack Kennedy. But when it comes to the inevitable decline of her brand of journalism, her fears are unfounded and misplaced.
"Helen Thomas," reported Lloyd Grove for the Daily Beast, "is worried that all the downsizing at media outlets will result in less-reliable coverage of the president." Thomas went on to lament the rise of new media as a viable alternative to traditional journalism.
With all due respect to Thomas and her distinguished career as a reporter, it is not at all clear that someone with views as liberal as hers -- placing her as they do well outside the mainstream of American political opinion -- is at all preferable an intermediary to a pajama-clad blogger or iPhone photographer.
The ability of non-credentialed citizen-journalists to report the news for themselves can potentially put an end to media gatekeepers who consistently side with the liberal left. For her part, Thomas has vehemently denied any liberal bent in the White House Press Corps, despite tremendous evidence to the contrary.
Thomas lamented a loss in "accountability," but who keeps Old Media accountable? She specifically targeted bloggers, saying,
They can ruin lives, reputations, and once you send something into the air, it’s going to land, and there’s nothing that can curb them from saying anything they want. Everybody with a laptop thinks they’re a journalist, and everybody with a cellphone thinks they’re a photographer.
And all those with printing presses and Columbia journalism degrees think they are entitled to a monopoly on information.
Sorry Helen, but according to the Pew Research Center only 29 percent of Americans believe that the press generally gets its facts straight. Only 26 percent believe the press is politically objective. An institution with such abysmal standing in the eyes of the public cannot credibly claim to be satisfying an indispensable social and political need.
Of course, 70 percent also think journalists try to cover up their mistakes, so Thomas's denial is predictable.
If anything, new media journalists must hold themselves to a higher standard if they wish to be successful. In general, they must start from a state of obscurity and build relationships with an audience. They are not granted an air of legitimacy simply by their existence.
As White House correspondent Bill Plante told Grove, the people who get "the decent information" are "the people who rely on trusted filters, whether they’re online or on the air."
There are still "trusted filters" among the tattered remains of the legacy of Cronkite and Murrow. But citizen journalists working with laptops and smartphones have to prove they are trusted filters. Old Media is consistently demonstrating that it comprises fewer of those every day, and Americans are turning to the alternative.
That is a fact to be rejoiced, not bemoaned.