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What state is journalism in today?

Jodi Westrick
Michigan Radio
Panelists from left to right: Chastity Pratt Dawsey, Rick Pluta, Zoe Clark (host), Chad Livengood and Lee Wilkins

“In flux.”




That’s how Monday night’s Issues & Ale panelists described journalism in today’s ecosystem.

Their responses were part of a bigger discussion, held at HopCat in Detroit, about the state of journalism in the era of social media, minimal funding and “alternative facts.”

Hosting the event was Michigan Radio’s own Zoe Clark, program director and co-host of It’s Just Politics.

Journalists on the panel included the following:

Livengood said journalism today is “in flux” because traditional mediums have had a hard time adapting to the public's demand for digital journalism.
He said those mediums also lack a “diversified revenue source.”

“They’re relying on people to buy a subscription – buy it off a newsstand or have an advertisement,” he said. “And those advertisers are starting to shrink.”

When an industry loses parts of its business model in this way, it has to change.

That’s why Wilkins said journalism today is “dynamic.”

Credit Jodi Westrick / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
HopCat, Detroit was the night's venue.

“Lots of new things are being invented, like Bridge, like what Crain’s is doing … there’s huge opportunity out there,” she said. “I tell our students all the time that journalism is going to be reinvented in this century.”

That reinventing will take place in the cities, she said. That means there's opportunity for Detroit.

“It’s a great time to be a journalist," she said. "If you, especially, have a little bit of ‘oomph’ and a little bit of drive and a whole lot of fortitude."

Along those same lines, Pluta said journalism today is “amazing.”

“There’s more interest and demand for what we do than I think ever before,” he said.

Amidst that interest and demand, Pluta said journalists are reinventing not only their business model, but also the way they do their jobs.

“It’s not just that we have to be visual and audio focused at the same time that we’re writing up and putting up all kinds of links and all of that,” he said. “But we have to reinvent what we’re doing at the same time that we’re reaffirming our commitment to the basic values of what we’re doing. And so I’ve just never been more excited about doing the job that we do than I have right now.”

The rise of the internet and social media is, of course, one reason journalists have been forced to reinvent.

But it’s not only already-established journalists adapting to this new medium of news.

Looking out into the crowd, Dawsey pointed at a man wearing a Detroit Tigers hat and said, "Detroit hat, what's your name?"

“John,” Detroit hat responded.

“John, by midnight, can be a journalist,” Dawsey said. “All he needs is a .com, a podcast. I mean really, it’s really blurry.”

She said “blurry” is the word to describe journalism today because “who is a journalist nowadays?”

“Do you have to work at a .com, do you have to work at a newspaper or radio station?” she said.

In that way, Dawsey said anyone can be a journalist.

“Just throw some stuff up on the internet, say it’s real and call yourself a journalist,” she said, alluding to the “fake news” phenomenon.

Wilkins pushed back on that point. The back-and-forth invoked cheers from the audience. Listen below.

For the full conversation, listen at the top of the post.

Issues & Ale is an event series from Michigan Radio meant to engage community members in conversation about issues facing our state.