Keeping ethics in the news

Professor Neil Henry

TEXT OF COMMENTARY

Kai Ryssdal: While the Bancroft family considers its options for the Wall Street Journal, the rest of the newspaper business keeps limping along. It's been a tumultuous couple of years.

Knight-Ridder was the second-largest newspaper publisher in the country. Until it sold itself off. The fate of the Los Angeles Times was up in the air until just recently, and even now it's fighting losses and cutting staff. The same is true at The San Francisco Chronicle.

Commentator and journalism professor Neil Henry says he thinks he knows what's happened.


Neil Henry: I had no idea the job cuts at the San Francisco Chronicle would be this sudden, this deep, this personal. Some of my former students facing unemployment.

We know what happened: Marvelous search engines like Google with magical new powers to spread news and information. Along the way they've profited enormously.

But for a host of reasons, the actual producers of the Web's news content — the reporters and editors — get very little benefit from this technological marvel.

And so we live in a world of paradox, don't we?

Internet companies provide more news every day, free of charge no less! Yet highly skilled people doing the expensive work of digging, finding and reporting the very best of it are endangered.

It's hard for me not to wonder if corporations like Google feel any tug of civic responsibility. After all, their breathtaking success as news aggregators has sprung indirectly from the fruit of professional journalism.

From Andrew Carnegie on down, rich philanthropists who rose from ragshave sought ways to give back to America by investing in civic endeavors vital to a healthy democracy.

Few things to me are more vital than journalism practiced according to high standards.Simply put, Google could do much more to protect this public trust: Offer support to journalism education and professional groups dedicated to truth seeking and time-honored ethical values. And assist newspapers directly, just as I think it's time for newspapers to band together to sue to protect content.

We are experiencing a tragedy that transcends dollars, cents and jobs lost. The truth is this: If newspapers keep bleeding and dying, one day soon we may find on Google News no news at all.

Instead, we'll get fake news from government officials, biased rants from basement bloggers, and PR disguised as journalism by clever advertisers seeking only to sell us more stuff.

Ryssdal: Neil Henry is a professor of journalism at the University of California-Berkeley.

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