The next guest in our class speaker series was Tiffany Shackelford, Executive Director of the Association of Alternative Newsmedia, whose mission is (lifted from its own website): “to provide services and leadership that ensure the success of its members, and to strengthen alternative journalism through advocacy and education.” Those members include local free papers The Portland Mercury and Willamette Week.
Don’t look to Tiffany for the hand-wringing and Chicken Little-ing found amongst many of her colleagues in journalism. “Sometimes you have to destroy the whole thing before you can rebuild it,” she said. “I kind of feel like we keep trying to fix things that didn’t work in the first place.” This is a perspective in keeping with the spirit of the alternative media, which challenge the staid editorial positions and economic dominance of mainstream news sources.
Rather than bemoan the current status of the Fourth Estate, Shackelford sees cause for optimism. “Maybe we’re living in a golden age of journalism right now,” she mused. Despite the revenue disaster that befell print media over the last fifteen years, Shackelford pointed to the many ways that the internet has enhanced journalism.
Turning conventional wisdom on its ear was the theme of her remarks. The “good ol’ days” of journalism? They were never that good. Journalistic standards of objectivity? They don’t really exist. Journalists should be tech savvy and know how to code for the Web? Nah, she said, while journalists need to know the technology and tools, they should leave the tech to the techies and focus on the core principals of good journalism.
“Citizens deserve quality journalism whether they pay or not,” said the maven of free newspapers. No matter what device delivers our information (“[you’ve] always tucked a newspaper under your armpit . . . so this idea that mobile is a new concept is silly”), a functioning democracy relies on dependable sources of good information. “Journalism is an important to civic life as opera or the ballet,” she said. Will time prove the soundness of her optimistic viewpoint? Check back here in twenty years to find out.